| Sept 29
Sept 29 A deadly commuter train crash in Hoboken
station in New Jersey renews focus on a mandatory anti-collision
system that has been plagued with lengthy, contentious delays.
Officials said train operator New Jersey Transit has not
installed the positive train control (PTC) system in Hoboken or
anywhere else on its network.
PTC works by hitting the brakes on a train if the engineer
misses a signal to halt - the equivalent of running a red light.
How long it takes a train to stop depends on its weight.
Freight trains can take up to 2 miles to stop. The system
combines GPS, wireless radio and other technologies, making it
far more complex than originally envisioned and requires more
investment and time to make it work, according to railroad
By law, NJ Transit is required to have a system in place by
the end of 2018. Amtrak has rolled out PTC on its network, while
the freight railroads have mostly been rolling out the
technology a section of track at a time.
Thursday morning's rush-hour crash killed at least one
person and injured 108 others.
National Transportation Safety Board vice chair T. Bella
Dinh-Zarr said at a news conference in Washington that the board
would "absolutely" look at whether the lack of PTC was a factor.
"PTC has been one of our priorities," she said. "We know
that it can prevent accidents."
It is unclear how fast the train in Hoboken was traveling or
whether a PTC system would have prevented an accident.
Former NTSB managing director Peter Goelz said that PTC is
most effective at higher speeds out on open track, adding it is
far from clear it could have made a difference in Hoboken.
Goelz said other factors, such as the alertness of the
locomotive engineer, could turn out to be more important.
The NTSB said it would also look for similarities with
another crash at the Hoboken station in 2011, when a commuter
train struck the bumping post at the end of the track, injuring
Last year, neighboring New York's Metropolitan
Transportation Authority received nearly $1 billion in federal
loans to implement PTC on its two commuter lines, although it
was criticized last month by the federal agency that issued the
loan for making almost no progress in installing the system.
New Jersey Transit ranked second for the most train accident
reports nationwide for commuter railroads from January 2007
through June 2016, behind Amtrak.
New Jersey Transit had 271 accidents, or 18 percent of the
total, compared to Amtrak's 44 percent, according to data from
the U.S. Federal Railroad Administration Office of Safety
The rankings in part reflect the heavy use of rail transit
in the U.S. Northeast compared to other parts of the United
According to a report by NJ Transit to the Federal Railroad
Administration for the first half of 2016, the public transport
system does not have PTC in operation on its 326-mile network.
None of the 1,100 New Jersey Transit employees who will need
training to operate PTC have yet received it, the report said.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Thursday "it
is too early to tell" whether positive train control would have
prevented the crash.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said the train was moving
much too fast when it came into the station.
"We don't know what the cause of the high rate of speed
was," he said.
PTC was mandated by Congress in September 2008, after a
Metrolink train ran a stop signal in Los Angeles and hit a Union
Pacific freight train, killing 25 people. Federal investigators
faulted the commuter train's engineer, who was sending text
messages while on duty.
Last year, the major U.S. freight railroads successfully
lobbied for a three-year extension of the December 2015 deadline
for implementing PTC, with the option to apply for two one-year
extensions. Several railroads have said that they will need both
extensions to fully implement PTC.
In June, Lance Fritz, chief executive of No. 1 U.S. railroad
Union Pacific Corp told Reuters the company would have
the system fully installed on its 32,000-mile network, but would
need the extra two years to "debug" it.
While critics say the railroads are dragging their feet on
PTC, the railroads say they have spent more than $6 billion on
PTC so far and expect to spend $4 billion more to complete
John Ireland, a project manager at Arlington, Virginia-based
railroad consulting firm R.L. Banks & Associates, said
cash-strapped public transport operators face a dilemma: They
are under pressure to implement PTC while struggling to maintain
crumbling infrastructure and handle rising passenger numbers.
"Even the major for-profit freight railroads with their
tremendous resources have had a hard time installing PTC,"
Ireland said. He said putting in the system was "a real
scramble" for public transportation agencies because "they
operate at a loss and they are not a budget priority for
governments in most regions."
(Reporting by Nick Carey in Chicago; Additional reporting by
David Shepardson in Washington and Jeffrey Dastin in New York;
Editing by Eric Effron and Grant McCool)