Updated on: 2/21/2019
At least one train expert believes Monday’s Amtrak Cascades train derailment near DuPont, Washington could have been avoided.
While the Amtrak train – pulled by the new Charger locomotive – was equipped with positive train control systems that automatically stop trains when trouble is detected, the system isn’t due to be activated until next year.
Positive Train Control Systems (PTC)
Most of the country doesn’t have positive train control (PTC) yet – passengers must rely on engineers’ skill, signals and partial train-control equipment.
George Washington University Law School professor John F. Banzhaf believes a cheaper alternative to satellite-based PTC could’ve also prevented Monday’s derailment. Banzhaf says that a simple GPS-based system could have been implemented on board and made the train slow down.
“Rather than waiting for so-called positive train control [PTC] systems which may not be operational soon, there is a much simpler and much less expensive GPS-only speed control system for trains which could be put into operation much more quickly, and at only a fraction of the cost of PTC,” Banzhaf says on his blog. “It is also so simple that its basic principle is already in use in millions of automobiles and trucks now on the roads.
“One reason that PTC is so expensive, time-consuming to establish, and difficult to install is that it is designed to do far more than the simplest but most vital task of keeping trains from exceeding the speed limit — e.g., also dealing with switches left in the wrong position, hijackings, natural disasters, etc.
“It is therefore a very complex system which requires not just GPS units in each locomotive, but also many thousands of signaling devices along sections of about 140,000 miles of track which transmit cab codes to antennas on railroad cars.
“Unfortunately, for PTC to work properly, there must be close cooperation and coordination between the many different entities which own the different tracks to which the devices are attached, and the owners of over 500 different railroad companies which may run on these many different tracks.
“All of the devices must also be able to communicate seamlessly with each other, and much of the delay in installing the system has been caused by the need to unify dozens of different systems, obtain permission to use the radio frequencies necessary for the devices to flawlessly exchange information, and related coordination problems…"
“Since automobile GPS units can show not only the car’s speed, but also the speed limit on that section of the road, they could also be mounted on each locomotive and prevent the posted speed from being exceeded – completely independent of the tracks on which they are traveling, and without the need for any other sensing devices, cooperation with other companies, communication between devices, etc.”
Injured In A Train Derailment Accident?
If you or a loved one has been injured in a train derailment accident, the legal staff at Seattle-based Davis Law Group, P.S., is here to help you better understand your legal rights so you can start your journey to justice.
Call Davis Law Group at (206) 727-4000 or use the contact form on this page to schedule a free consultation.
For more detailed information about the disaster, read AMTRAK CASCADES DERAILMENT DISASTER: A Legal Guide For Accident Victims/Survivors by the Amtrak train accident attorney team at Davis Law Group.