December 17, 2013
An Amtrak train, top, traveling on an unaffected track, passes a
derailed Metro-North commuter train on Dec. 1 in the Bronx. Officials
stand on a curve in the tracks where the train derailed.
Sometime in the next few weeks, Metrolink plans to demonstrate
Positive Train Control on one of its Southern California lines, a step
toward being the first rail operator to meet a federal mandate to
install the safety technology.
That's good news. Positive Train
Control, which can automatically stop a train headed for a collision or
derailment, might have at least lessened the impact in the head-on crash
between a Metrolink commuter train and a Union Pacific freight train
that killed 25 people in Chatsworth in 2008. And the GPS-based system
could have prevented the accident in which a Metro-North commuter train
jumped the tracks while going too fast on a tight turn, killing four
passengers in the Bronx on Dec. 1.
There's bad news, though. Few rail operators are as committed to
PTC as Metrolink is. Most are lobbying Congress to delay the end-of-2015
deadline, citing the cost and complexity of installing the fail-safe on
70,000 miles of track.
The rail industry's complaints have some
validity, especially the part about Congress ordering train operators to
foot the project's $13 billion bill almost entirely themselves.
the interest of getting PTC installed in the nation's trains as soon as
possible, American train passengers (and those who love them) should be
willing to pay more of the price. If this means putting more federal
taxpayer money into the project, so be it.
Californians can probably think of a chunk of money that would
work nicely: the $3.3 billion in federal cash earmarked for the Los
Angeles-to-San Francisco-area high-speed rail project, a sum whose fate
is uncertain after the bullet train's latest legal setback.
What's more valuable, perhaps the most significant rail safety
feature that will be adopted in our lifetimes, or the California
bullet-train plan that sounds more and more like a futurist's fantasy?
an enthusiastic PTC advocate like Metrolink has faced delays (full
installation is expected by late 2014, a year and a half later than
forecast) and a cost overrun (to $210-215 million from the predicted
$201.9?million, a difference to be made up with federal transportation
If other rail operators need a financial push to get this
important safety work done by the 2015 deadline, it would be worth it
for Congress and the American people to help pay the price.