Train Safety: What is Taking so Long?

We have already written a couple of posts about Positive Train Control, which the CEO of Metrolink described as “perhaps the most important safety innovation in our lifetime”.  (The first article explained how Positive Train Control can prevent several types of deadly train accidents and the delays in implementing itThe second article discussed whether Positive Train Control could have prevented the recent New York commuter train derailment which killed 4 people and injured dozens more.)  If you did not read those articles, here is the deal in a nutshell: Following a 2008 Metrolink train crash in California, legislation was passed to require Positive Train Control and the implementation deadline was 2015.  But with that date looming, most railroad companies are claiming they can’t meet the deadline. 

Now, here is the latest.  Following that same 2008 train crash, the National Transportation Safety Board began pushing the Railroad Administration to install cameras in train cabs to record drivers.  The thought being this would deter dangerous behavior like texting while operating the train, sleeping, etc.  Additional cameras would face outward to record the tracks for hazards.  And, in the event of a crash, both sets of cameras would help investigators determine the cause of the accident.  But to date, the Railroad Administration has not even proposed a rule (the first step in the process) to make the installation of these cameras mandatory. 

Following the New York commuter train accident in December, two United States senators have publicly called out the Railroad Administration for its delay in implementing the rule.  And now, finally, the Railroad Administration says they will move on the rule sometime later this year. 

Of course, all of this feet dragging begs the question: how many lives have to be lost and how many people have to be injured before this important safety technology is actually implemented.  As Mark Twain once said: “Even if you are on the right track, you will still get ran over if you just sit there”.   And once again human life and well-being continues to be put at risk while people try to figure out whether they should do the right thing.

It is easy to blame the government for this, but the fact of the matter is that the railroad companies exert tremendous influence over the regulatory process.  The dirty little secret is that all regulated industries manipulate the regulatory process to their own advantage. 

In the meantime people die and lives of entire families and even communities are changed forever.  It is time to get our priorities straight and put people – their lives, safety and health – ahead of profit and convenience.