WASHINGTON (Jan. 14, 2021) — The National Transportation Safety Board said Thursday it would close three key positive train control safety recommendations after the nation’s railroads met the Dec. 31, 2020, deadline for compliance.
The recommendations to Metra, Canadian National Railway Corp. and CSX Transportation are related to installing PTC, the safety technology that prevents equipped trains from colliding, missing signals or speeding. The recommendations will be classified “closed – acceptable action.”
The NTSB has called for PTC for more than 50 years. Positive train control has long been a key advocacy issue for the independent federal safety agency and is on the NTSB’s 2019-2020 Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements.
The first of the 154 PTC-preventable accidents the agency investigated was in Darien, Connecticut, in 1969. The last was Carey, Ohio, in 2019.
“I’ve seen up close the devastation and heartbreak a rail catastrophe brings,” said NTSB Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt, who has been a board member on scene for 36 transportation accidents, including four that would have been prevented if PTC were in place. “We will silently mark our success with every train crash prevented, every life saved by this technology.”
(NTSB graphic by Jesus Cudemus)
The NTSB recommended CSX install a PTC system after a Feb. 16, 1996, collision between Amtrak and a Maryland Rail Commuter passenger trains on CSX tracks near Silver Spring, Maryland. Three operating crewmembers and eight passengers on the MARC train were killed in the derailment and subsequent fire.
The recommendation to Metra resulted from a 2003 overspeed derailment that injured 47 on Oct. 12, 2003. The train was traveling 68 mph in a 10 mph zone.
The NTSB issued the recommendation to Canadian National after two CN freight trains collided head on in Anding, Mississippi, on July 10, 2005. Four crewmembers were killed and 15,000 gallons of diesel fuel were released from the locomotives, resulting in a fire that burned for 15 hours.
Positive train control compliance will formally remain on the current Most Wanted List until March, when the NTSB will decide on a new list of transportation improvements. The board could vote to remove PTC from the list then.
Also Thursday, NTSB Board Member Jennifer Homendy moderated a live discussion with Sumwalt and three of his predecessors to reflect on the 50-year-long march to PTC implementation. The discussion also featured a panel of investigators and staff who discussed the professional and personal challenges of responding to some of the 154 PTC-preventable accidents the agency has investigated.
The event will be archived shortly on ntsb.gov and on the NTSB YouTube channel.
To report an incident/accident or if you are a public safety agency, please call 1-844-373-9922 or 202-314-6290 to speak to a Watch Officer at the NTSB Response Operations Center (ROC) in Washington, DC (24/7).