TRANSIT: Federal regulators lay down gauntlet on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor

Immediate improvement regarding safety measures and technology application demanded.

Transit News May 19, 2015
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Passenger rail service Amtrak was recently ordered by federal regulators to immediately improve safety along its Northeast Corridor from Washington to Boston; this demand comes in the wake of the disastrous derailment of Northeast Regional Train 188, which had been traveling at greater than twice the posted speed limit when entering a bend in Philadelphia on May 12.


In a statement released this past weekend, the Federal Railroad Administration stipulated that Amtrak must expand its use of technology to control train speeds. Moreover, the agency also ordered Amtrak to analyze curves on its tracks along the northeast route and add additional speed limit signs for engineers and conductors.


Regarding the May 12 incident, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx issued a statement saying, “While we do not yet know everything that happened, we do know without question that protecting rail passengers is our top priority. The actions we have instructed Amtrak to take are aimed at improving safety on this corridor immediately.” The National Transportation Safety Board is now investigating why the New York-bound train accelerated to 106 mph before derailing on a curved section of track with a posted 50 mph speed limit.


Under the federal order, Amtrak will have to apply technology that automatically brakes a train if an engineer doesn’t slow down when exceeding the speed limit. The railroad already uses such a system on southbound trains near the crash site; regulators have now ordered its use on northbound trains as well.


Amtrak, in a blog post on its website after the order was released, said it will install systems over the weekend to ensure that northbound trains slow to 45 mph as they approach the curve where the incident occurred.


Amtrak is working on installing more advanced automatic-braking technology known as Positive Train Control by the end of the year, which, like the recent order, was stipulated by federal regulators.

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