Metra on track with braking system that might have stopped Amtrak crash

  • Cars from an Amtrak train lay spilled onto Interstate 5 alongside smashed vehicles as some train cars remain on the tracks above Monday in DuPont, Washington. The Amtrak train making the first run along a faster new route hurtled off the overpass Monday near Tacoma and spilled some of its cars onto the highway below, killing at least three people, authorities said.

    Cars from an Amtrak train lay spilled onto Interstate 5 alongside smashed vehicles as some train cars remain on the tracks above Monday in DuPont, Washington. The Amtrak train making the first run along a faster new route hurtled off the overpass Monday near Tacoma and spilled some of its cars onto the highway below, killing at least three people, authorities said. associated press

 
 
Updated 12/20/2017 8:37 AM

An automatic braking system meant to prevent crashes like the Amtrak derailment in Washington state will start operating on Metra's four busiest train lines in 2018 while work to equip the commuter railroad's seven other routes is on schedule, officials said.

Known as positive train control, the technology can stop a train when a crash is imminent and is federally mandated to be installed by railroads in 2018, with exceptions allowed through 2020.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

On Monday, an Amtrak train going 50 mph over the speed limit derailed in Washington state, sending some cars plunging into traffic on an interstate highway below and killing three people. The train was not equipped with positive train control, authorities noted.

PTC should be fully commissioned on the BNSF Line in early 2018, Chief Engineering Officer Bruce Marcheschi said at a Dec. 13 meeting.

Next, the Union Pacific North, Northwest and West Lines should be PTC-compliant by midsummer.

The BNSF and UP lines comprise more than half of Metra's ridership.

Meanwhile, Metra has hit a number of bench marks needed to receive deadline extensions for its other lines. On the Milwaukee District lines, PTC should be operating before the end of 2019.

The Canadian Pacific Railroad is installing PTC on the North Central Service and Heritage Corridor and should wrap up that work in mid-2019, Marchese said.

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Congress mandated major railroads to install the upgrade after a deadly 2008 commuter train crash in California.

Implementing PTC involves outfitting not just train cars and locomotives but also track infrastructure, as well as training employees and running tests.

The cost for Metra to equip its system is between $350 million and $400 million.

NTSB experts have said PTC could have prevented fatal crashes such as an Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia, where eight people were killed in May 2015. The train was traveling at twice the speed limit.

The most recent major rail crash in the Chicago region involved a Chicago Transit Authority Blue Line subway train that sped into the O'Hare station without slowing, hit a bumper and bounced onto an escalator after the operator dozed off March 24, 2014.

No one was killed, but several people were injured in the crash, which happened early in the morning.

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