A new hurdle to Amtrak’s automated solution to prevent high-speed train derailments like the fatal accident in Philadelphia emerged at a Congressional hearing last month. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) says the system that commands trains to slow down to avert emergencies may not work properly in some locations because it relies on airwaves that can be blocked by signals from equipment on adjacent freight railroad tracks.
Freight railroads operating from New Haven, Conn., to Boston plan to use the same radio frequencies as Amtrak for their separate train-safety system and that may cause interference. Charles Mathias, Associate Chief of the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, said at a hearing of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee in Washington:
This could degrade or disable communications on both systems, causing either or both to function improperly or stop functioning altogether. We understand the criticality of this and the FCC is working with railroads to resolve the issue.
Amtrak, according to its five-year budget plan, has invested at least $76.9 million on the Positive Train Control (PTC) program, which is supposed to be fully up and running by the end of the year on Amtrak-owned rails along its popular Northeast Corridor route that runs from Washington to Boston.
Installation was slowed because it took five years to purchase access to the radio frequencies it needed, DJ Stadtler, Amtrak’s vice president of operations, told the committee. He said it didn’t receive permission until May 29 to begin testing the system south of New York — where the recent derailment occurred. While Amtrak has sorted out all those issues, it must now consider the possibility that the system won’t operate as planned once freight railroads install their train-control technologies.
Stadtler said that because freight railroads aren’t ready to complete their system immediately, interference issues shouldn’t prevent Amtrak’s passenger rail service from completing its version this year. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune said most railroads won’t finish installing the system by Dec. 31 and for that reason Congress needs to set a “thoughtful” revised schedule.
The train-control system, which has been in the works for years, was thrust back into the spotlight in May after an Amtrak train going through Philadelphia entered a curve running at as much as 106 miles per hour. That was more than twice the speed limit. The train derailed and eight of the 238 passengers were killed. Investigators are still searching for answers to why the train was traveling so far over the speed limit and why the engineer didn’t apply the emergency brakes sooner than he did.
In a report released just before the hearing, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said there was no evidence so far to show that the engineer, Brian Bostian, was on his mobile phone or that he violated Amtrak policy prohibiting distractions from calls and texts. He also didn’t access the train’s Wi-Fi system while operating the locomotive, the NTSB said. The investigators determined that there was “no talking or texting or data use involved.” NTSB Vice Chairwoman T. Bella Dinh-Zarr confirmed that to the Senate committee, but also said that investigators haven’t yet ruled out whether the phone may have been used in other ways.
The NTSB is attempting to determine whether the device was in “airplane mode” or was switched off during the trip. They have been examining the phone’s operating system, which contains more than 400,000 files, according to the NTSB’s statement. The engineer, who suffered a head injury, told investigators he doesn’t recall what happened prior to the crash. He gave investigators his phone’s password, which allowed them to access data on the device without having to seek a subpoena. The investigation will continue into the crash, which Amtrak estimates cost more than $9.2 million, according to a preliminary NTSB report released June 2.
Source: Claims Journal
Contact us today for a free legal consultation with an experienced attorney.
Fields marked *may be required for submission.
If you would like to subscribe to the Jere Beasley Report digital edition, simply visit our Subscriptions page and provide the necessary information or call us at 800-898-2034.
Attorney Advertising - Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.