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Speed Control Technology Could Have Prevented Metro-North Derailment

The Metro-North train that went off the rails in the Bronx Sunday was traveling at a speed of 82 mph through a 30 mph curve.
The Metro-North train that went off the rails in the Bronx Sunday was traveling at a speed of 82 mph through a 30 mph curve. Photo Credit: Metro-North Railroad

WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. -- The high-speed derailment of a Metro-North train in the Bronx Sunday has raised questions about whether steps could have been taken to reduce the speed of the train before it went off the tracks.

The train was traveling through a 75 mph zone at a speed of 82 mph before going around a 30 mph curve, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. While the cause of the accident is still under investigation, speed safety measures such as positive train control technology could have prevented the crash.

Positive train control is a system designed to reduce the risk of high-speed collisions and derailments. The technology utilizes speed displays and wireless radio data to warn train personnel when the train is going too fast or about to collide with an obstruction or another train. It also includes technology that automatically triggers the brakes if an engineer is not able to react fast enough.

In a press briefing in Yonkers Tuesday afternoon, NTSB member Earl Weener said that the NTSB has been recommending positive train control technology for 20 years as a way of reducing the possibility of human error.

"PTC is proven technology that can prevent train-to-train collisions, overspeed derailments or incursions into work zones," Weener said. "Since this is a derailment involving a high-speed train, it's possible that PTC could have prevented it."

In 2008, Congress passed a law requiring all trains to implement positive train control technology by Dec. 15, 2015. The MTA began work to implement positive train control on Metro-North and the Long Island Railroad Road in 2009. Nearly $600 million has been budgeted for the installation, and it is estimated to cost $900 million in total. In a statement released Tuesday night, MTA officials said that implementing positive train control by 2015 will be "very difficult."

"Much of the technology is still under development and is untested and unproven for commuter railroads the size and complexity of Metro-North and LIRR, and all of the radio spectrum necessary to operate PTC has not been made available. The MTA will continue its efforts to install PTC as quickly as possible, and will continue to make all prudent and necessary investments to keep its network safe."

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