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December 29, 2020 3:45 PM, EST

Railroads Install Crash-Prevention System Ahead of US Deadline

A Norfolk Southern freight train rolls through downtown Pittsburgh. (Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press) A Norfolk Southern freight train rolls through downtown Pittsburgh in March 2018. (Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press)

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U.S. railroads have completed installation of an automated crash-prevention system that covers 57,536 miles of freight and passenger tracks ahead of an end-of-year deadline that was previously extended, the Federal Railroad Administration announced Dec. 29.

Railroads initially were given until the end of 2015 to install safety technology known as Positive Train Control under a federal law passed in the aftermath of a deadly 2008 commuter rail crash in Los Angeles that killed 25 people. Congress extended the deadline for railroads to implement PTC until the end of 2020 after the industry said it needed more time.

“Achieving 100% PTC implementation is a tremendous accomplishment and reflects the Department’s top priorities — safety, innovation, and infrastructure,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said in a statement.

RELATED: Railroads Approaching Positive Train Control Full Implementation, FRA Says

The safety system is designed to prevent train-to-train collisions, derailments due to excessive speed and mistaken direction of trains through switches left in the wrong position, the FRA said. The technology now covers 41 railroads that were subject to the statutory mandate. Those include seven railroads with operating revenues of more than $250 million, Amtrak, 28 commuter railroads, and five other freight railways that host intercity or commuter rail passenger service.

“PTC is a critical piece and new dimension of safety in the railroad industry, but it does not take the place of the men and women who operate and maintain freight and passenger trains,” FRA Administrator Ronald Batory said in a statement.

Ian Jefferies, president and CEO of the Association of American Railroads, which lobbies for rail companies, said in a statement the full implementation of the automated train control system is an important milestone “that will enhance safety and springboard innovation long into the future.”

Rail safety came under additional scrutiny in the wake of fatal Amtrak accidents in Washington State and South Carolina that investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board said could have been prevented by PTC.

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