Railroad data obtained by the Associated Press shows that nearly 300 people have been killed and several thousand maimed in 150 U.S. train crashes that could have been prevented had rail companies installed the speed-control technology that federal safety investigators have been advocating for decades.
According to the AP, National Transportation Board (NTSB) investigators first pushed for “automatic train control” in 1969, after two Penn Central commuter trains crashed into each other in Darien, Connecticut, killing four people and injuring 43.
Since that crash, there have been 298 deaths, 6,763 injuries, and $385 million in property damages in train crashes up until May 2015, when an Amtrak train derailed in Philadelphia, killing eight and injuring hundreds more.
These totals do not include the Dec. 18 train crash south of Tacoma, Washington, that killed three people. Rail experts say that crash likely could have been prevented with positive train control (PTC) technology.
After a Metrolink train crash killed 25 people in 2008, Congress mandated railroad companies implement GPS-based PTC by 2015, but rail companies have lobbied against the rule and Congress has extended the deadline years past the original date.
“We have recommended PTC for decades,” NTSB investigator Bella Dinh-Zarr told the AP. “Unfortunately the deadline was moved farther into the future, and every year that we wait to implement PTC to its fullest extent means that more people will be killed and injured.”
These delays continue even as railroads introduce new high-speed routes across the country. The Amtrak Cascades 501 train that crashed was making its inaugural run from Seattle to Portland when it derailed. A new $3 billion Brightline express train will soon start running in Florida, connecting Orlando to Miami with speeds up to 120 mph. That train will not have PTC when it starts rolling in a few weeks.
Going against the protests of the Federal Railroad Administration, Congress extended the deadline for the implementation of PTC until the end of 2018 and then allowed railroads to apply for a further extension to 2020.