Could safety technology have prevented NJ Transit crash?

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- SEPTA recently installed Positive Train Control, a software-based system that when implemented in theory should prevent accidents like the one in Hoboken.

PTC is a high priority for the NTSB and investigators will want to know whether it could have prevented the crash, said board member Bella Dinh-Zarr.

The technology uses digital radio communications, GPS and signals alongside tracks to monitor train positions. It can automatically stop or slow trains to prevent them from disobeying signals, derailing due to excessive speed, colliding with another train or entering track that is off-limits.

"It'll enforce a stop signal - that's important. Over speed it will not allow you to exceed the speed limit of that section of the track," said General Manager Jeff Knueppel.

Jeff Knueppel, the General Manager of SEPTA, says to date a half dozen regional rail lines have PTC implemented. Warminster and Fox Chase were among the first to have it installed earlier this year.

PTC is expected to be fully implemented by year's end.

"All these systems are working together to provide a system that basically greatly reduces human error," said Knueppel.

Congress federally mandated all private railroads have PTC by the end of 2015. The deadline was extended to 2018 because the mandate wasn't funded.

SEPTA will pay roughly $328 million to install PTC on its 172 miles of regional rail.

New Jersey Transit had yet to finish equipping any locomotives with the technology and had not installed any of the radio towers necessary to make the system work or completed installation on any track segments, the report said.

Knueppel wouldn't comment on the situation in New Jersey due to the ongoing investigation, but says terminals like the one in Hoboken often don't have PTC because of the track complexities and generally low speeds.

"Occasionally you are going to still have situations where human error can creep into the situation. It's a big improvement, but it doesn't solve everything," said Knueppel.

He wouldn't say if PTC has prevented any accidents in our area to date.

However, the NTSB has said PTC could have prevented the Amtrak crash in Philadelphia. The train was traveling at more than 100 mph shortly before it entered a curve and derailed. Eight people were killed and over 200 injured.

Since the NTSB started urging railroads to adopt some form of train control system in the 1970s, the board says it has investigated at least 145 PTC-preventable accidents in which about 300 people were killed and 6,700 injured.


The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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