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Could Technology Have Prevented the Latest Deadly Train Crash?

While investigators are still trying to pinpoint the cause of last month’s deadly train accident outside of Philadelphia, most experts agree that it was completely preventable. A system known as positive train control (PTC) likely would have prevented the train from derailing if it had been installed on the track.

Train crashes, including derailments and train-car collisions, are on the rise. Overall, an estimated 1,000 people die in train accidents every year. While train accidents can have a variety of causes, the country’s aging rail infrastructure frequently plays a role.

According to safety officials, the positive train control system is relatively easy to install and can prevent the human errors behind roughly 40 percent of train accidents. However, it is extremely costly. As a result, many rail companies have yet to widely deploy it, despite repeated calls from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

In a fact sheet published earlier this year, the NTSB highlighted the benefits of the life-saving PTC technology. According to the NTSB, it has investigated at least 25 train accidents since 2004 that resulted in 65 fatalities, 1,100 injuries, and millions of dollars in damages, all of which could have been prevented with the use of the positive train control system. As the agency further explains:

Imagine the engineer of a freight train suffering from the symptoms of the cold he has been fighting for three days. Although he feels a little better this morning, he is still coughing and tired. He does not notice a red signal, and does not stop the train. What happens next? With PTC, the train stops anyway.

In 2008, Congress enacted the Rail Safety Improvement Act. It requires each Class 1 rail carrier and each provider of regularly-scheduled intercity or commuter rail passenger service to implement a PTC system by December 31, 2015. Unfortunately, the NTSB has raised concerns about whether railroads will be fully compliant by the end of the year.

If you or someone you love has been seriously injured in a San Diego accident, don’t hesitate to contacta San Diego personal injury attorney at the Law Offices of Robert Vaage for a free consultation.