Security and Safety

Amtrak ordered to improve safety along NEC route, seeks PTC approval

Posted on May 19, 2015

Photo: NTSB
Photo: NTSB

Following last week’s derailment in Philadelphia, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has instructed Amtrak to immediately take several actions to improve safety along its Northeast Corridor (NEC), according to a press release issued Monday.    

“We are continuing to work with the NTSB to understand exactly what happened on Tuesday so we can prevent this type of devastating accident from ever happening again,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said. “While we do not yet know everything that happened, we do know — without question — that protecting rail passengers is our top priority. The actions we have instructed Amtrak to take are aimed at improving safety on this corridor immediately, but we won’t hesitate to require the railroad to do more to improve safety as the accident’s causes become clearer.”

The FRA instructed Amtrak to take the following actions, which will be formalized in the coming days via an Emergency Order:

Technology to control train speeds: Automatic Train Control – ATC – is currently in use for southbound trains at and near the derailment site to enforce speed restrictions. Amtrak has been ordered to immediately ensure that same technology is in use to enforce speed restrictions for northbound trains. ATC detects when a train is traveling above the speed limit, sending a signal to the engineer. If the engineer fails to act to slow the train down, ATC will automatically apply the train’s brakes.

Assess risk at all curves on NEC: Amtrak has been ordered to analyze all curves on the NEC to assess risk. In areas where approach speed is significantly higher than curve speed, the appropriate technology intended to prevent over-speed derailments must be implemented immediately. Amtrak must also take a new look at all curves along the corridor and determine if more can be done to improve safety in any of these areas. Amtrak will report back to the Federal Railroad Administration with its findings.

Speed limit signage: Amtrak must increase its wayside signage alerting engineers and conductors of the maximum authorized speed throughout the NEC. Increasing the amount and frequency of signage provides a redundant means to remind engineers and conductors of the authorized speed, in addition to information they receive from the ATC system and other operations documents.

These are just initial steps, but we believe they will immediately improve safety for passengers on the Northeast Corridor,” said Acting Federal Railroad Administrator Sarah Feinberg. “While full implementation of Positive Train Control is the most important step that must be taken to improve safety, it is not the only action that we will require of Amtrak and other railroads. As we learn more from the ongoing investigation into this derailment, we will take additional steps and enforcement actions as necessary.”

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Reuters reported that Amtrak is seeking expedited approval to equip the Philadelphia site of last week's high-speed derailment with positive train control (PTC) technology that could have prevented the fatal crash.

The passenger rail operator told the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last Thursday that it would ask for special temporary authority to use a radio frequency needed to operate PTC, in "the accident area," an FCC document shows, the report said.

Amtrak said previous efforts to obtain the radio bandwidth had been thwarted. In a blog posted over the weekend, the rail operator said litigation and regulatory proceedings "obstructed" its attempts to purchase frequencies on the open market between 2010 and 2014, according to Reuters. For the full story, click here.

Also on Monday, the NTSB said that the FBI found no evidence of damage caused by a firearm to the windshield of derailed Amtrak 188. For the full story, click here.

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