More delays, more derailments, and more deaths. That is the reality of America’s railroads since we last wrote about the industry’s ongoing failure to implement Positive Train Control (PTC) systems across the nation’s rail network. Now that the federal mandate to install this lifesaving technology has once again been pushed back – from 2015 to 2018 and now to 2020 – the lives of railroad workers, passengers, and those living near rail corridors continue to be needlessly put at risk.

A recent 60 Minutes story shined another spotlight on the lack of PTC implementation and the avoidable accidents it could prevent. Many derailments and crashes are the results of trains traveling too fast on stretches of track where speeds should be limited. PTC technology automatically slows down or stops a train if the engineer fails to respond to a signal or exceeds the safe speed limit. It is designed to eliminate human error as a contributing factor in rail accidents; protecting the lives of both railroad workers and train passengers.

60 Minutes PTC

Inexcusable Delays in Installing Life-Saving Technology

There is no question that installing PTC across the country’s rail system is an expensive and complex undertaking. Railroad companies estimate that the cost could exceed $22 billion over the next 20 years, and there are significant technological challenges as well. But air traffic control is costly and complicated, and no one questions the need to keep planes from crashing. The consequences of train collisions and derailments are no less catastrophic, and the lives of those who work, travel and live near railroads are no less valuable.

But the original 2015 deadline for PTC implementation came and went, and despite two more extensions, 60 Minutes reports that only 10 percent of mandated railroads have fully implemented PTC technology.

While the railroad operators themselves are primarily responsible for the foot-dragging, Robert Sumwalt, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, told 60 Minutes that the federal agency charged with enforcing PTC requirements, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) shares a significant portion of the blame.

“The regulator needs to step up to the plate and do their job and regulate,” Sumwalt said.

Every day that goes by without full PTC implementation is another day that our country’s dedicated railroaders are at an increased and thoroughly unnecessary risk of injury and even death. It is also imperative for passenger safety.

The FELA lawyers at Sommers Schwartz continue to urge federal regulators and railroads to address the issues that are keeping PTC from protecting the nation’s railroaders, and enable this life-saving technology with all deliberate speed.

Ben Wilensky

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Ben Wilensky

Ben focuses on representing railroad workers seeking compensation for injuries under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act. He also represents clients in professional malpractice, civil rights, products liability, fraud litigation, governmental liability, RICO, business disputes and employment law.