Federal agencies Rail Transportation

NTSB satisfied with railroads’ progress on Positive Train Control recommendations

Metra train
Photo: BeyondImages/iStockphoto

Washington — The National Transportation Safety Board is closing three safety recommendations related to the installation of Positive Train Control systems – emergency slowing and stopping systems designed to help prevent train crashes and derailments caused by human error.

According to a Jan. 14 press release, the announcement comes after all of the nation’s railroads met the Dec. 31 deadline for PTC compliance. The recommendations will be classified “closed – acceptable action.”

PTC was included on NTSB’s 2019-2020 Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements after no railroads were in full compliance by the original deadline of Dec. 31, 2018 – set by Congress – to have PTC systems installed and operating. A two-year extension was granted to become fully compliant.

Among the NTSB recommendations was for CSX Transportation to install a PTC system after a 1996 collision of Amtrak and Maryland Rail Commuter passenger trains on CSX tracks. Three operating crew members and eight passengers on the MARC train were killed.

NTSB also recommended PTC installation for Illinois-based Metra and the Canadian National Railway Corp. after separate incidents involving the railroads. In 2003, a Metra train derailed while traveling 86 mph in a 10-mph zone, injuring 47 people. The recommendation to Canadian National stemmed from a 2005 collision of two CN freight trains in Mississippi. Four crew members were killed and 15,000 gallons of diesel fuel spilled from the locomotives, causing a fire that burned for 15 hours.

“I’ve seen up close the devastation and heartbreak a rail catastrophe brings,” NTSB Chair Robert Sumwalt said in the release. “We will silently mark our success with every train crash prevented, every life saved by this technology.”


NTSB issued its first PTC-related recommendation in 1970. Since 1969, the agency has investigated 154 PTC-preventable derailments or collisions that have resulted in 6,883 people injured and 305 deaths. In that time, NTSB has issued 82 safety recommendations.

PTC will formally remain on NTSB’s current “Most Wanted” list until March, when the agency expects to decide on a new list of transportation safety improvements. NTSB could vote to remove PTC from the list at that time, according to the release.

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