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What is Positive Train Control?

With the recent Washington Amtrak derailment, the topic of positive train control (PTC) is once again forefront in conversations about rail safety.

The train crash killed three men and left over 100 victims injured after derailing on a freeway overpass. The train was carrying 77 passengers and seven crew members. Following the crash, all of the crew members were hospitalized. The train was traveling at 80 miles per hour, but the speed limit for the curved area of track was only 30 miles per hour. Investigations as for why the train was traveling 50 miles per hour over the speed limit are still underway.

What is PTC?

PTC is a is a safety system implemented on trains designed to stop certain types of accidents, such as train to train collisions and derailments caused by excessive speed. PTC is a network of components, including a centralized dispatch system, an onboard computer and wayside units. The various pieces work together to track train movement by pinging the onboard computer and wayside units at regular intervals.

How does it work?

When a train is equipped with PTC, the route is downloaded into the onboard computer before the train departs. The route material will contain information about speed limits and possible hazards. As the train makes its way along the route, its movement is tracked at the centralized dispatch system. If a train is moving too fast, the onboard computer will alert the conductor and can even activate the braking system in an emergency. PTC can also prevent train to train collisions since the centralized dispatch system would know where every train is at any given moment.

Congressed passed regulations in 2008 requiring PTC to be implemented by December 31, 2015. The deadline was extended for three years to December 31, 2018. Additionally, if railroads show progress of implementation, the deadline can be further extended to the end of 2020 if certain qualifications are met.

Reviewing the numbers

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported an average of 48 fatalities for railroad employees from 2011-2016. Hopefully, as employers are forced to comply to with stricter safety regulations, the number of railroad employee fatalities will decrease. If you have been injured due to poor worker safety conditions, the railroad company is liable. Reporting a FELA injury claim is the first step towards remittance.

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