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Another Metrolink train crash and derailment, this time in Oxnard, caused by a big rig that got stuck on the tracks in the early morning hours.

It could’ve been worse of course, but if your loved one is among the 30 or so injured, some critically, that’s not what you’re thinking about.

On Sept. 12, 2008, a Metrolink train failed to stop at a red signal near Ventura, causing a collision with a Union Pacific freight train. In this tragic incident, 25 lives were lost and another 135 people were injured. U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) led Congress in adopting the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, which mandated the installation of PTC, or Positive Train Control by the end of 2015.

At the time there was no adopted technology standard for PTC, but that didn’t stop Congress from enacting the mandate. The estimated cost for developing, installing and deploying PTC on the Metrolink system alone is $210.9 million. And remember, this is a nationwide mandate which must be on every AMTRAK and freight train in addition to all the commuter trains throughout the country!

Could this multi-billion dollar federally mandated safety technology have averted todays tragic accident? Probably not. The system is actually designed to avert train to train collisions, not obstructions on the tracks collisions.

Here in San Diego County, our NCTD Coaster Trains use the same type of locomotives and similar double decker coaches the Metrolink favors. Coaster also uses a push / pull system, meaning that on the southbound runs the locomotive is in the back pushing and going north the locomotive is in front pulling. Same as the Metrolink. NCTD Coaster is developing its own PTC system at a cost of millions of dollars, and it would not have prevented today’s accident either. Like the Metrolink PTC, it’s really focused on train to train collision avoidance.

So here’s the question of the day: Why can I buy a new car for well below $100,000 that has “active” or “adaptive” cruise control which will take the car from 100 MPH to full stop to prevent a collision if something is blocking the road ahead, but the railroad geniuses following the federal mandates, while spending hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars, are developing systems that can only see other trains and not obstructions on the tracks?

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Comments 3

  1. There is an incentive for the auto maker. They can sell cars with those safety features.
    This is no incentive for the government to do anything. They only consume resources and take up time and space.

  2. Automakers didn’t have the technology in 2008 when this law was passed (at least it wasn’t widely utilized). The question we should really ask is why aren’t the politicians who run the NCTD willing to go beyond simply following a 7 year old federal mandate? Isn’t our safety important enough to them?

  3. UPDATE: Sunday evening an AMTRAK train struck a car that was on the tracks in Camarillo California.
    AMTRAK will be required to also have the Positive Train Control on its trains, but here we are again with an obstruction on the track being struck by a train. Service was disrupted, but thankfully no injuries reported.

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