Railroads and Government Turned Their Backs on ‘Positive Train Control’ Technology. Industry Saved Costs – and 25 Riders Lost Lives
San Francisco, California (WiredPRNews.com) — Compounding their devastation and anguish in the wake of the deadliest train collision in 15 years – and the worst in modern California history – families of the 25 riders killed now know that the September 22 crash could have been easily prevented — had proven, readily available technology been installed aboard the Metrolink train. But for years, the railroad industry – citing costs — has stalled, delayed, and lobbied against the introduction of the equipment, known as ‘positive train control.’ And government regulators – contrary to the recommendations of their own experts – failed to require it. The Metrolink crash in Chattsworth, California – which also injured 135 – is a stark reminder of the consequences of putting profits before safety.
In hearings before Congress in the wake of the tragedy, the head of the Federal Railroad Administraton (FRA), Joseph H. Boardman, acknowledged that positive train control – which would have automatically activated the train’s brakes in unsafe conditions where the engineer failed to respond – would have prevented the collision, in which the Metrolink passenger train collided with a Union Pacific freight train after its engineer, text-messaging on his cell phone, ran through a red signal. While shocking to families, this revelation comes as no surprise to railroad experts. The FRA’s own Rail Safety Advisory Committee has estimated that nearly 1,000 railway incidents could have been prevented by positive train control. The National Transportation Safety Board has also pushed for the technology, putting it this year on its list of ‘most wanted’ transportation safety improvements.
“It defies logic – and certainly common sense – to turn your back on a technology that hasn’t just been proven to save lives, but has been endorsed – indeed, demanded — by the foremost experts on railroad safety,” says Mary Alexander, one of California’s top trial attorneys, who been litigating complex accident cases – including railway crashes – for over a quarter of a century. “Here is the exact tragedy positive train control was designed to prevent; a situation where an engineer failed to recognize unsafe conditions and take appropriate action. But the Metrolink engineer wasn’t the only one who failed,” says Alexander: “Repeatedly, the railroad industry – and the regulators who are supposed to put the public’s best interest over industry’s – disregarded the cries, and the warnings, that ignoring this technology was courting danger. And now we have the result: a needless tragedy where dozens of lives were lost and many more have been changed forever.”
With positive train control, the engineer is no longer the last line of defense. Equipment onboard the train continually monitors its position – using the same Global Positioning System (GPS) technology used to help drivers navigate the highways – and relays that information, wirelessly, to a control center tracking data from all trains on the line. When an unsafe condition is detected – say, one train dangerously close to another – the engineer is warned. If he or she fails to act, the system takes over, automatically activating the train’s brakes – and averting disaster.
The Metrolink crash sent a wake-up call to Congress, which is now considering a rail safety reform bill that would require positive train control technology to be implemented. But the deadline for the railways to comply – 2015 – is nearly a decade a way, making it likely that September’s collision won’t be the last preventable disaster. Industry clearly needs a wake-up call, too, if this life-saving technology is going to be implemented with the speed the public demands – and deserves. Fortunately, there is another way to spur the railways to act responsibly. The civil justice system doesn’t just provide redress for those who have been needlessly harmed. It sends a message – that negligence won’t be tolerated, and safety must come first.
Railroad accident cases are complex; it’s an area filled with unique – sometimes obscure – regulations and laws. That makes it essential that these matters be handled by experienced train negligence lawyers who understand the nuances, and have mastered the strategies. For over 25 years, Mary Alexander – founder and lead counsel for the Mary Alexander & Associates law firm – has specialized in complex, high-stakes litigation. Recently, Ms. Alexander won a large settlement on behalf of a passenger struck by a Union Pacific train, and she is currently litigating a case against Caltrans on behalf of an injured passenger.
Cases like the Metrolink crash don’t just demand justice, but action. Those who needlessly put lives at risk need to know that their decisions have consequences – and their behavior must change. For over 25 years, Mary Alexander has been vindicating the rights of the injured – and protecting the rights of the public. Individuals who suspect they might have a personal injury or wrongful death claim are encouraged to visit the firm’s website at www.maryalexanderlaw.com for a free case review, or call the Mary Alexander & Associates at 1-888-433-4448.