Oberstar: Deadly Train Crash was Preventable

WASHINGTON — Friday’s fatal Metrolink train crash was preventable, according to Rep. James L. Oberstar, D-Minn., Chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

In the wreck, a Metrolink commuter train collided with a Union Pacific freight train in Los Angeles, killing 25 people and injuring 135 others.

The Federal Railroad Safety Improvement Act of 2007 (H.R. 2095), a bill the House of Representatives passed last year, would require trains to be equipped with Positive Train Control (PTC), a collision avoidance system. PTC has been at the top of the National Transportation Safety Board’s priority list for nearly two decades.

“Our legislation requiring PTC would substantially reduce the number of serious train accidents, because it provides safety redundancy to protect against human performance failures,” said Oberstar. “However, the unwillingness of rail companies to make the needed investments in safety, have prevented this technology from being fully implemented.”

The system uses global positioning satellites, train systems and signals, and computer programs, among other means, to prevent human errors in train operations. With a PTC system, a train would stop automatically when signals are ignored by the engineer.

“My Committee has held many hearings on railroad safety, fatigue, and human factor accidents and has heard testimony from all the stakeholders and policymakers in the passenger and freight rail industry,” Oberstar said. “Expanding capacity on the rail network is an important goal, but increasing safety is even more crucial.

“Safety is always my number one priority, regardless of the mode of transportation, and this legislation is a critical step forward in increasing safety standards for the rail industry,” Oberstar added. “I urge my colleagues in Congress to pass a rail safety bill that mandates implementation of PTC prior to the adjournment of the 110th Congress. Increasing safety on America’s railroads is simply too important to ignore any longer.”