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Tragic Philadelphia Crash Spurs Pledge for Positive Train Control

Matt Ball on May 15, 2015 - in Corporate, Rail, Sensors

This week’s tragic Amtrak crash in Philadelphia has renewed the scrutiny of aging infrastructure and has spurred a pledge from Amtrak’s CEO Joe Boardman that Positive Train Control will be in place along the Northeast Corridor by the end of this year. Positive Train Control was

Positive Train Control (PTC) monitors and, if necessary, controls train movement in the event of human error. PTC is GPS-based safety technology capable of preventing train-to-train collisions, over-speed derailments, unauthorized incursion into work zones and train movement through switches left in the wrong position. PTC may also bring trains to a safe stop in the event of a natural disaster.

PTC sends up-to-date visual and audible information to train crew members about areas where the train needs to be slowed or stopped. This information includes the status of approaching signals, the position of approaching switches, speed limits at approaching curves and other reduced-speed locations, speed restrictions at approaching crossings and speed restrictions at areas where work is being performed on or near the tracks. PTC communicates with the train’s onboard computer, allowing it to audibly warn the engineer and display the train’s safe braking distance based on the train’s speed, length, width, weight, and the grade and curvature of the track. If the engineer does not respond to the ample audible warning and screen display, the onboard computer will activate the brakes and safely stop the train.

Congress ordered the nation’s railroads to adopt positive train control by December 2015, but there have been some delays due to the cost and some technological hurdles. Freight railroads have particularly balked at the cost

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