After train derailment in DuPont, USDOT secretary issues stern warning

After train derailment in DuPont, USDOT secretary issues stern warning

The federal government is stepping up pressure on railroads to get an important safety system installed after the deadly train derailment in DuPont.

Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao sent letters to all executive officers of the nation's Class I railroads, stressing the "urgency and importance" of implementing positive train control system by the end of 2018.

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“Advancing the implementation of Positive Train Control is among the most important rail safety initiatives on the Department’s agenda,” said Secretary Chao. “The FRA leadership has been directed to work with your organization’s leadership to help create an increased level of urgency to underscore the imperative of meeting existing expecta­tions for rolling out this critical rail-safety technology.”

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Amtrak, BNSF, and Sound Transit are among the agencies that received the letter.

Positive Train Control uses GPS and other technology to automatically slow a speeding train and prevent crashes. Congress ordered railroads to have the safety measures in place by 2015, but extended that deadline to the end of 2018 after installation became too complex — there was a possibility of extending the deadline to 2020 as well.

The former chair of the Metrolink board in Los Angeles recently said the delay in the safety technology has to do with cost. Keith Millhouse said commuter and freight agencies put pressure on elected officials to prevent the change.

“Basically, they consider it too expensive.”

Secretary Chao’s letter, however, shows greater urgency.

In December, three people were killed and dozens more were injured when an Amtrak train derailed over southbound I-5 in DuPont. The train was traveling at approximately 80 mph as it entered a curve that should have been taken at about 30 mph, according to an initial report from the National Transportation Safety Board. The train derailment occurred on the inaugural run of a new route between Seattle and Portland.