Fatal Accident Could have been be Prevented with Positive Train Control


Believe it or not, the rail industry has actually gone backwards in the past few decades when it came to safety technology. Due to this regression, many fatal accidents and injuries have occurred over the years that could have been prevented if railroads had better safety technology. This technology isn’t out of reach and could have been achieved and standardized decades ago.

In 1981, Richard M. Bressler, Burlington Northern Railroad’s chairman, was traveling for business on a corporate jet. Suddenly, he came up with an idea that was directly applicable to his industry. What if the standard safety technology of planes was applied to trains and the rail industry? Captivated by his sudden idea, Bressler led a group of his employees to create a similar safety system for the rail industry. Bressler and his team created the Advanced Railroad Electronics System (ARES). This safety system included many features, such as giving dispatchers the ability to stop trains remotely and automatically if speed limits are exceeded.

Unfortunately, the project met its demise in 1993. The reasons for the system’s shut down included the high expenses and the opposition of many managers who didn’t see the benefits of the safety technology. Other railroad companies refused to buy in and Burlington Northern Railroad didn’t want to go through with it alone. The company had already spent $15 million on the project. To install the Advanced Railroad Electronic System on the entire railroad system, it would have cost about $580 million (original figure altered for inflation).

Early November 2015, President Obama passed a bill that gave railroads three more years to install positive train control, which is an automated safety technology. The positive train control technology would have to be installed on about 60,000 miles of rails. Many industry executives asked for an extension, which was granted to them. The industry executives cited that the difficulties of working with a new safety system were the cause of the delays.

While positive train control technology is currently being developed, many people don’t see the point. According to many sources, positive train control technology intended to prevent fatal accidents had essentially been developed three decades ago. The Advanced Railroad Electronic System actually had many of the same functions as positive train control technology is projected to have.

Had safety technology similar to positive train control been installed long ago, more than just a fatal accident or two could have been prevented. In fact, since 2004, fatal accidents led to about 77 deaths, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. More than 1,400 people were injured in train accidents. In just May 2015, a fatal accident with an Amtrak train in Philadelphia led to the deaths of eight people. Hundreds more people were injured. After a train accident in 2008, Congress mandated train safety technology to prevent future deadly train accidents.

Many officials have argued that the ARES was rudimentary and lacked testing. Nonetheless, the ARES system proved that train safety technology was possible and not a distant dream. Had the ARES system been fully developed decades ago, far fewer train accidents would occur on our railroad system.

It seem some progress has been made. The railroad industry has spent over $6 billion and it is projected that $4 billion more will be spent. Just about every member is committed to making train safety technology happen. This is a vast improvement from the lack of support commonly seen in the past for train safety technology. However, according to the Government Accountability Office, most railroad companies will fail to meet the December 31st deadline.

Unfortunately, due to the lack of positive train control and other train safety technology, more and more people become victims of a fatal accident every year. If you are a victim of an accident, please contact the attorneys at GOM Law for more information about your options and your legal rights.