morning Chairman Thune, Ranking Member Nelson,
and the Members of the Committee. Thank
you for inviting the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to testify
before you today.
NTSB is an independent Federal agency charged by Congress with investigating
every civil aviation accident and significant incidents in the United States
and significant accidents and incidents in other modes of transportation –
railroad, highway, marine and pipeline.
The NTSB determines the probable cause of accidents and other
transportation events and issues safety recommendations aimed at preventing
future accidents. In addition, the NTSB
carries out special studies concerning transportation safety and coordinates
the resources of the Federal Government and other organizations to provide
assistance to victims and their family members impacted by major transportation
its inception, the NTSB has investigated more than 140,500 aviation accidents
and thousands of surface transportation accidents. In addition, the NTSB has completed 553 major
investigative reports in the areas of railroad, pipeline, and hazardous
materials safety, including 150 accidents involving Amtrak. On call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, NTSB
investigators travel throughout the country and internationally to investigate
significant accidents and develop factual records and safety recommendations
with one aim—to ensure that such accidents never happen again.
date, we have issued over 14,000 safety recommendations to nearly 2,300
recipients. Because we have no authority
to regulate the transportation industry, our effectiveness depends on our
reputation for conducting thorough, accurate, and independent investigations and
for producing timely, well-considered recommendations to enhance transportation
NTSB's annual Most Wanted List highlights safety-critical actions that the US
Department of Transportation (DOT), United States Coast Guard, other Federal
entities, states, and organizations need to take to help prevent accidents and
save lives. In January, the NTSB
released its Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements for
2015. Each year, we develop our Most
Wanted List based on safety issues we identify as a result of our accident
investigations. This year’s Most Wanted List
includes “Implement Positive Train Control in 2015.” As we pointed out:
Train Control (PTC), real-world results have been tragic. PTC is a system of functional requirements for
monitoring and controlling train movements to provide increased safety. While the NTSB has called for a system like
this for over 45 years, it still has not been fully implemented in our
commuter, intercity, and freight trains. Without it, everybody on a train is one human
error away from an accident.
the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 [RSIA]. The Act requires each Class 1 rail carrier and
each provider of regularly-scheduled intercity or commuter rail passenger
service to implement a PTC system by December 31, 2015. Progress is being made toward this lifesaving
goal. Metrolink became the first
commuter rail system to implement PTC, when it began a revenue service
demonstration on the BNSF Railway. This demonstration project is a step in the
right direction, and Metrolink reports it will implement PTC fully throughout
its entire system before the Congressionally mandated deadline.
It has been more
than 45 years since the NTSB first recommended the forerunner to PTC. In the meantime, more PTC-preventable
collisions and derailments occur, more lives are lost, and more people sustain
injuries that change their lives forever.
Yet there is
still doubt when PTC systems will be implemented nationwide as required by law.
Each death, each
injury, and each accident that PTC could have prevented, testifies to the vital
importance of implementing PTC now.
over 45 years, the NTSB has investigated numerous train collisions and over speed
derailments caused by operational errors involving human performance failures. The NTSB attributed these human performance
failures to a variety of factors, including fatigue, sleep disorders,
medications, loss of situational awareness, reduced visibility, and
distractions in the operating cab. Many
of these PTC-preventable accidents occurred after train crews failed to comply
with train control signals, follow operating procedures in non-signaled or
“dark” territories, observe work zone protections, or adhere to other specific
operating rules such as returning track switches to normal position after
completing their work at railroad sidings.
first NTSB-investigated accident that train control technology would have
prevented occurred in 1969, when four people died and 43 were injured in the
collision of two Penn Central commuter trains in Darien, Connecticut. The NTSB recommended, based upon its
investigation of that accident, that the FRA study the feasibility of requiring
railroads to install an automatic train control system, the precursor to
today’s PTC systems. The appendix to this prepared statement
provides a chart showing that since the NTSB issued the first safety
recommendation concerning train control technology in 1970, there have been
more than 140 accidents across the country resulting in nearly 300 fatalities,
more than 6500 injuries, and costing millions of dollars, that could have been
prevented or mitigated by PTC.
cab signaling and speed control systems, such as automatic train control (ATC),
have been in use for nearly a century. In
1919, a system that could automatically stop a train in violation of a signal
was tested on the Buffalo, Rochester, and Pittsburgh Railway. That same system was commercially applied to
the Chicago and North Western Railway in 1923.
ATC is designed to enforce restrictive and stop signals by applying a
penalty brake application to slow or stop the train to prevent or mitigate the
results of train-to-train collisions, but ATC will not prevent all train
collisions and was not designed to prevent over speed derailments. Although ATC is still in use today, the
nearly century-old technology is obsolete and insufficient to provide an
acceptable level of rail safety today. PTC
systems are designed to prevent derailments caused by over speeding and
train-to-train collisions by slowing or stopping trains that are not complying
with the signal systems, track authorities and speed limits. They are also designed to protect track
workers from being struck by trains by preventing train incursions into
designated work zones and prevent train movement through misaligned switches.
enacted RSIA in the aftermath of the 2008 accident in Chatsworth, California in
which a Metrolink commuter train and a Union Pacific freight train collided
head-on, killing 25 people and injuring 102 others. The NTSB’s investigation concluded that the
Metrolink engineer’s use of a cell phone to send text messages distracted him
from his duties and that PTC could have prevented or mitigated this accident. This Committee’s report accompanying the
Senate bill under consideration prior to the enactment of the RSIA also pointed
to the NTSB’s investigation of a 2005 train derailment in Graniteville, South
Carolina, in which an employee failed to properly line a track switch,
resulting in the death of nine individuals due to the release of chlorine gas.  
requires the implementation of a PTC system by December 31, 2015, on each line
over which intercity passenger or commuter service is operated or over which
poison- or toxic-by-inhalation hazardous materials are transported . Several rail carriers have stated that they
will not meet the 2015 deadline, and we know that Congress is considering
extending the PTC implementation deadline. We urge Congress not to extend the RSIA
deadline and require full PTC implementation without delay. NTSB accidents are filled with files
containing PTC preventable accidents, and every day that PTC is delayed, the
risk of a PTC-preventable accident remains.
most recent PTC-preventable accident occurred last month on May 12, 2015, when Amtrak
Northeast Regional Train 188
derailed. The accident train, operating northbound
from Washington to New York, departed Philadelphia’s 30th Street
Station on time bound for New York’s Penn Station. The train derailed while traveling through a
four-degree left curve at Frankford Junction.
Maximum speed through the curve is 50 miles-per-hour (mph), but NTSB’s
preliminary data analysis determined that moments before the derailment, the
train was traveling at 106 mph when the engineer applied the emergency brake
system. Eight people were killed and
more than 200 were injured.
Another PTC-preventable accident
occurred on December 1, 2013, when a Metro-North commuter train derailed in the
Bronx after entering a curve with a 30 mph speed limit at 82 mph. Four people lost their lives and 61 others
were injured. We determined the probable
cause of the derailment was the engineer’s noncompliance with the 30 mph speed
restriction because he had fallen asleep due to undiagnosed severe obstructive
sleep apnea. A contributing factor was the
absence of a positive train control system that would have automatically
applied the brakes to enforce the speed restriction.
accidents that could have been prevented by PTC include:
In September 2010, near Two Harbors, Minnesota, human error and fatigue contributed to the collision of two freight trains, injuring five crewmembers.
In April 2011, near Red Oak, Iowa, fatigue contributed to the rear-end collision of a coal train with a standing maintenance-of-way equipment train, killing two crewmembers.
In May 2011, in Mineral Springs, North Carolina, human error contributed to the rear-end collision of two freight trains, killing two crewmembers and injuring two more.
In May 2011, in Hoboken, New Jersey, human error contributed to the collision of a train with the bumping post at the end of the track.
In January 2012, near Westville, Indiana, inattentiveness contributed to the collision of three trains, injuring two crewmembers.
In June 2012, near Goodwell, Oklahoma, human inattentiveness contributed to the collision of two freight trains, killing three crewmembers.
In July 2012, near Barton County, Missouri, human error contributed to the collision of two freight trains, injuring two crewmembers.
In May 2013, near Chaffee, Missouri, inattentiveness and fatigue contributed to the collision of two freight trains, injuring two crewmembers and causing the collapse of a highway bridge.
In December 2013, near Keithville, Louisiana, human error contributed to the collision of two freight trains, injuring four crewmembers.
2004, in the 30 PTC-preventable freight and passenger rail accidents that the NTSB
investigated, 69 people died, more than 1,200 were injured, and damages totaled
millions of dollars.
far, some PTC systems have been successfully deployed. For example, one of the deployed PTC systems
is the Amtrak Advanced Civil Speed Enforcement System (ACSES). Amtrak has deployed ACSES along portions of
the Northeast Corridor that are owned by Amtrak. ACSES, a transponder-based system approved by FRA, enforces maximum track speed limits, permanent and temporary speed limits,
and positive stop at interlocking and controlled point signals displaying stop. In addition, Amtrak has deployed the
Incremental Train Control System (ITCS) on more than 60 route miles along Amtrak
owned Michigan Line between Chicago and Detroit. ITCS has been in revenue service since
RSIA’s deadline may result in a patchwork of PTC systems in operation across US
rail systems. Without a fully implemented
and PTC system, railroads that complied with the 2015 deadline would not be
able to fully utilize their PTC functionality if they operate on track used by
a carrier that has not met the law.
February 2013, the NTSB held a forum called “Positive Train Control: Is it on
Track?” in order to bring together a wide range of experts to examine the
technological, regulatory, and operational status of PTC. Challenges hindering the full implementation
of PTC were discussed, including cost, standardization of technologies, and
availability of radio spectrum. Despite
these challenges, the NTSB believes it is crucial that the Congressionally-mandated
goal of PTC by the end of 2015 remain in place.
forerunners of PTC have been in existence since the 1920s. Yet, more than a decade into the 21st
century, we are still hearing that PTC cannot be implemented this year--it is
too costly and too difficult. This type
of response would not have been tolerated concerning automobile seatbelt or airbag
technology, and it should not be acceptable here. The NTSB strongly supports full PTC
implementation without delay. Many railroads
that have made the difficult decisions and invested millions of dollars to
implement PTC in 2015 should not be penalized for their leadership. For each and every day that PTC implementation
is delayed, the risk of a PTC-preventable accident remains.
you for the opportunity to testify before you today. I look forward to responding to your
NTSB, Penn Central Company, Collision of Trains N-48 and N-49 on August 20,
1969, Rpt. No. RAR-70-03 (October 14, 1970).
Penalty braking is a brake
application that is initiated after the train engineer fails to comply with a
signal or to acknowledge an alerter alarm.
NTSB, Collision of Metrolink Train 111 With Union Pacific Train LOF65-12
Chatsworth, California September 12, 2008, Rpt. No. NTSB/RAR-10/01 (Jan.
S. Rpt. No. 110-270,
accompanying S. 1889, the Railroad Safety
Enhancement Act of 2007, at 6 (March 3, 2008).
NTSB, Collision of Norfolk Southern Freight Train 192 With Standing Local
Norfolk Southern Train P22 With Subsequent Hazardous Materials Release at
Graniteville, South Carolina, January 6, 2005, Rpt. No. NTSB/RAR-05/04
(Nov. 29, 2005).
Safety Improvement Act of 2008, Pub. L. No. 110-432, § 104 (2008).
NTSB, Preliminary Report:
Railroad DCA15MR010 (2015).
NTSB, Metro North Railroad Derailment, Accident Brief No. RAB-14/12
(October 24, 2014).
The area of track where the May
12, 2015 derailment occurred near Philadelphia is not yet equipped with
ACSES. Amtrak has indicated it
expects to have ACSES operational in this
area by the end of 2015, if possible.
Information concerning the NTSB’s PTC Forum on is available at