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Technology helps reduce rail risks



The general implementation of positive train control, technology designed to stop trains before accidents can occur, will significantly reduce railway liability but is not a cure, experts warn.

The Federal Railroad Authority announced in December that PTC systems – designed to prevent train-to-train collisions, tracks caused by speed, intrusion into established work zones and train movements through gears left in the wrong position – have been widely adopted.

The Agency stated that the technology was operational in all 57,536 required freight and rail transport operations before 31 December 2020, the statutory deadline set by Congress.

But the process took a while. President George W. Bush signed the 2008 Rail Safety Improving Act, which required PTC systems to be fully implemented by December 31

, 2015, on main lines with regularly scheduled passenger traffic between cities or commuters. The deadline was extended twice, first to December 31, 2018, then to the end of 2020.

John Anderson, Deputy General Counsel at Metra, Chicago's railroad system, said the technology would have prevented a Metra 2005 track of trains in Chicago due to "The engineer's lack of attention and speeding" in which two people were killed and 200 injured.

Mr. Anderson said the PTC may also have prevented Amtrak tracking in Philadelphia and Washington in 2015 and 2017, respectively, which was attributed to excessive speed.

"It's certainly a step in the right direction when it comes to improving security measures, but it's a new technology," said David Adamczyk, New York – based Vice President of Aspen Insurance Holdings Ltd. "We're just going to monitor what's going on out there with the PTC, and hopefully it does everything that has been said it will do, but at this point it's a wait and see."

about PTC, "says Daniel Bancroft, New York – based North American transportation manager for Willis Towers Watson PLC." The biggest I see is the misconception that trains can go faster now, so we can have fewer trains "and need fewer train cars, which" does not is really true. "

" PTC was installed for security purposes, not necessarily productivity improvement, so I think insurers are happy to see that, "he says. Previously, insurers had to worry about whether a commuter and freight train shared a track, one complied with the PTC and the other did not, and that concern now "largely disappears," he said.

While PTC is helpful, it does not solve all the problems that Metra may encounter, says Anderson.

PTC can be effective for things like controlling a train's speed or preventing it from moving from one track to another due to a misalignment. "But what it will not control is if a truck gets stuck at an intersection," or if a pedestrian is on the track, Anderson said.

A major problem left in the industry is accidents that occur along railway tracks and at railway crossings. A Federal Railroad Administration study released in December found that a motorist is 40 times more likely to be killed in a train accident than in any other type of highway collision. It is said that there were 18,289 vehicle train collisions between 2008 and 2017, which resulted in 2,250 deaths and more than 8,000 injuries.

The study said that a survey of more than 9,000 intersections "revealed that most drivers did not visually search for trains and did not prepare you to stop, regardless of the type of warning device available and the intersection or environmental conditions at the time of crossing.

It said a better understanding of driver behavior at intersections, which can help through machine learning and artificial intelligence, would help predict situations where drivers are less careful and may be at risk of accidents.

According to Federal Highway Administration, the rail crossings from 2017 onwards were approximately evenly distributed between those with active warning devices, including flashing lights, and gates that sink as a train approaches, and those with passive devices, such as stop signs and "crossbucks", which are X-shaped warning signs

Railway crossings are a problem "because there are many moving parts", in some cases ll a municipality that owns the intersections and in other cases the railroad that owns them and is responsible for their upkeep and maintenance, says Kevin Wood, Monroe, Louisiana-based national director of rail services at Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.

"You are talking about a rather expensive conversation" when it comes to installing fully functional intersections, he said.

Mr. Anderson said that intersection structures and the types of safety devices used have been significantly improved, including fail-safe mechanical devices that prevent intersections.

Mr. Adamczyk said that railways have done an effective job of informing communities about this issue, but there will always be people who will always take a chance to walk around these intersections or gates or blow through the lights and try to beat the train. "

" It's a dangerous situation, but I do not know how you can change human nature, "he said.

“There are situations where railways have been sued for accidents at intersections even where they have complied with local regulations and requirements. There is coverage for these claims in railway policy, of course subject to the policy conditions, says Adamczyk.

Fred Millar, an independent transportation consultant in Arlington, Virginia, said he would like to see trains required to have electronically controlled pneumatic brakes that can stop them at shorter distances.

As of September 2018, the Ministry of Transport repealed a rule from 2015 that required the installation of advanced braking systems on tankers carrying explosive fuels, based on its provision that the costs "would exceed three times the benefits it would provide", according to the department.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., Was among those who opposed the repeal, calling it "absolutely unacceptable" because of security issues.


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