Train accidents may not be as common as motor vehicle crashes, but they still happen from time to time. When they do, the consequences can be severe. For instances, back in May a train accident in Philadelphia killed eight people and injured about 200. Investigations after the fact determined that the train was traveling at 106 miles per hour through a curve with a speed limit of 50 miles per hour.
Rail accidents don't just threaten passengers. Many freight rail lines regularly transport toxic chemicals that could leak into nearby soil and water supplies and even contaminate residential areas in the event of an accident.
For this reason, Congress has ordered railroads to adopt automatic braking also known as "positive train control." In fact, legislators have just voted to extend the deadline for the adoption to 2018, while also allowing the Secretary of Transportation to issue an additional two-year waiver beyond that deadline.
The industry largely supports the idea. Representatives argue that it will take time and a significant investment to create a reliable system, and are in favor of the extension.
"This provides the certainty American industries and businesses need to serve the millions of Americans who rely on rail every day," Edward Hamberger, CEO of the Association of American Railroads, told The Brake Report. "The extension means freight and passenger railroads can continue moving forward with the ongoing development, installation, real-world testing and validation of this complex technology."
Positive train control is designed to slow down trains that are going too fast for posted track speed limits or are at risk of a collision. When fully adopted, it should significantly improve the safety of rail travel.