A train safety system that is supposed to be installed across the country by year's end could have prevented Tuesday's deadly Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia, experts say.
The Positive Train Control or PTC, aimed at preventing collisions and derailments, likely would have prevented the accident by forcing the train to stay below the speed limit, according to National Transportation Safety Board member Robert Sumwalt. The system has not yet been installed on the Philadelphia railways where Amtrak 188 hurtled off the tracks just after entering a curve at more than 100 mph Tuesday night, killing at least eight people and sending hundreds to the hospital.
"Based on what we know right now, we feel that had such a system been installed in this section of track, this accident would not have occurred," Sumwalt said.
The New York-bound train had reached 106 miles per hour just seconds before entering a curve where the speed limit drops to 50 mph, investigators say. The speed limit just before the bend is 80 mph. The engineer applied the train's emergency brake, Sumwalt said, but it was too late. The engine and 6 cars shook and careened off the track, causing the wreck local officials have characterized as the worst in recent memory.
Deborah Hersman, president of the National Safety Council and a former NTSB chairman, said Wednesday that the Philadelphia crash is "exactly the type of incident that PTC is designed to prevent," according to NBC News.
"So we have seen this before, and we will continue to see it again until PTC is installed," she said.
PTC has been installed at other locations along Amtrak's Northeast Corridor line, including stretches from Boston to New Haven, New Brunswick to Trenton and a 30-mile stretch of track in eastern Maryland. Congress has mandated installation along the Philadelphia tracks, along with more than 600,000 miles of U.S. railways that carry passengers or hazardous materials, by year's end.
PTC was developed after the U.S. Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, which urged these changes to be finished by December 2015. Complaints from rail lobbyists who say the goal is unrealistic and too expensive have sparked attempts in Congress to delay that deadline, NBC News reported. Efforts to provide funding to complete the project have also been blocked, according to NBC News.
The most important goals of PTC are to prevent train-on-train collisions, focus on rail worker safety, and monitor or enforce temporary speed restrictions, in addition to line speed enforcement.
The National Transportation Safety Board has confirmed NBC10's report that the Amtrak 188 train was traveling at speeds of over 100 miles per hour just before the train's derailment.