The increased Amtrak speeds in Michigan and Indiana followed the Federal Railroad Administration’s approval after successful implementation of a Positive Train Control (PTC) system.
PTC, first mandated by Congress in 2008, is a technology used in trains that is meant to avoid human error and prevent crashes. The system automatically applies the brakes on a train when it approaches another train on the same track. For more than two decades, the National Transportation Safety Board pushed for legislation mandating the new technology. After a 2008 crash between a passenger train and freight train near Los Angeles killed 25 people, the legislation was finally passed. But now it is under attack from House Republicans. Last month, a bill was introduced by the House Transportation Committee recommending the required implementation of PTC be postponed until 2020 or beyond. The proposed delay is supported by railroad companies, who believe that the estimated $13 billion price tag of implementing PTC far outweighs the benefits, since train crashes are relatively rare. On the other hand, as Moody’s states, “with $60 billion in annual revenue and several billion dollars in cash…[major railroads] have the wherewithal to cover PTC costs.”
The House votes on the proposed legislation next week. Stay tuned for updates, as this legislation has the potential for profound impacts on the railroad system and the spread of high-speed rail.