No More Delays: Require Railroads to Put Safety First
By Sandra Dalton, Staff Writer
There could be a train crash in your future. Last year we saw a 17% increase in train accident fatalities over 2013. In 2014, about 16 people were killed by trains each week in the U.S., making it the deadliest year since 2007. This year, it seems like you can’t turn on the news without hearing about another train crash.
Now it looks as if Congress will give the railroads a five-year extension on this year’s deadline for installing new accident-avoidance technology, but the railroads will be allowed to continue expanding and increasing traffic in the meantime.
Adding to the problem, there is no federal regulation requiring truck companies or drivers to warn train operators when they will be hauling a large or complicated load across the tracks.
Increased Rail Traffic
There are about 10 railroad crossing accidents involving large commercial trucks each week in the U.S.
Rail traffic is already increasing, in part to accommodate the growing demands of the oil and gas industry. Tracks that had gone unused are seeing heavy traffic now. Trains are moving faster.
According to the Association of American Railroads, U.S. freight railroads plan to spend $29 billion -- about $79 million a day -- on expansion this year. They will lay more track, build terminals and buy locomotives. Somehow they can manage that, but they cannot complete the Positive Train Control (PTC) safety system, which will only take $9 billion.
PTC will automatically slow trains down, when needed, when the engineer fails to do so.
It will prevent derailments, train-to-train collisions, accidents caused by switching mistakes and unauthorized movement of trains into areas where maintenance is being performed.
The 2008 Rail Safety Improvement Act requires that PTC be installed by the end of 2015, but Congress is now considering extending the deadline by five years. This is a bad idea for train commuters and the driving public. If installing PTC is so difficult and time-consuming, surely a moratorium on expansion would encourage the railroads to devote the necessary resources to the task.
No Communication between Trucks and Trains!
PTC will not solve every safety issue. There are about 10 railroad crossing accidents involving large commercial trucks each week in the U.S. There is no federal regulation
requiring communication between the trucking and railroad industries. If train operators were warned to slow down when difficult loads are planned to cross, many of these accidents could be avoided.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has been making suggestions, trying to resolve the problem for nearly 50 years. But it does not have the authority to make the rules.
No one wants the duty of handling the notifications. The responsibility to notify could fall on the trucking industry or even state troopers that are supplied in advance with the plans. The railroads would be responsible for responding properly to the advance notice. Because of the potential legal liability, they fight the simple regulations that could save lives
It is time for regulators to step up and make a stand against putting profits over lives.