It's been a little more than 100 days since the December 1, 2013 fatal overspeed derailment. This incident demonstrated, in the worst way, the superiority of predictive positive train control to the legacy reactive systems of cab and block signaling with speed control.
Those who thought that the safety case, not the business case, for PTC could not justify its installation where cab signal/speed control systems were in use found out how dangerously ignorant they were/are. I would like to say they learned the lesson the hard way, but they didn't. Others taught them the hardway, by dying.
One would think that 100 days or more after that fatal accident so transparently the product of human error, a class of errors that PTC will directly eliminate, all the moaning and groaning about the cost, complexity, scope, scale of PTC installation would have ceased. Maybe even, if this were Japan, we'd get some sort of collective apology from the "responsible parties" who complained about the "unfunded mandate;" from those who "knew better" than the meddlers in the US Congress which meddlers, oddly enough, exercised their power appropriately to provide for the common good. How about that? Every once in awhile, a majority of 535 blind pigs find one acorn, right?
One might have even thought or hoped that FRA, it of the deep dives, the open letters, the mandatory voluntary close-call reporting systems, the inward and outward, upward, downward, over and through video and audio recording systems, might have reversed itself and renounced its advice to Congress to push back the due date for PTC to 2018.One might have thought that.
One might even have thought that APTA, the organization of the passenger rail service providers in the US would have stopped with its "me-tooing" after the AAR, and stated, as an organization of passenger rail service providers, that it is committed to the installation of PTC on all tracks where passenger service operates by the mandatory date-- and let the AAR worry about gross ton miles, yard limits, and de minimis exceptions.
Sure one might have thought those things, but one would have to be incredibly naive to have thought such things seriously.
Despite predictions made at the 2013 AREMA conference held in Indianapolis by Class 1 railroad and Amtrak officers that their railroads would meet the December 31,2015 deadline, the CEO of the AAR testified in late February before the HOR Subcommittee on Transportation (wish I could identify that with initials too), that its member railroads would not meet the deadline.
The CEO of the AAR was joined and supported by the president of APTA who argued that "there is no ready-made off-the-shelf product for this new technology." Well, yes and no. There never is any off the shelf ready made product for these systems when private vendors are free to develop, produce, innovate and market different solutions to a recognized problem.
In other circumstances, this diversity, this freedom to innovate and compete, is hailed as the lifeblood of democracy, and more importantly corporate profits. In this instance, the very same unfettered capitalism is supposed to present an obstacle insurmountable within the paltry six years the industry was allotted to achieve compliance. As somebody once said, "Look into my eye. Let me know if you see anything there that looks like sympathy."
The legislation, in its wisdom, does not specify the technology, the systems, the products that must be used to reach a goal. The legislation, substantially more transparent, less equivocal than FRA's amending of the law through its regulations, recognizes the problem and mandates that the Secretary of Transportation enforce the law that requires the private enterprise/public utility/ common carriers called railroads to equip their networks with systems that provide certain critical protective functions. The law defines PTC by function, not technology.
Despite the complaints of CEOs and presidents, there are PTC systems up and running, and fulfilling those mandatory functions, and doing so without "false enforcement," or failures of enforcement.
FRA has been very forthright recently in expressing its concerns about failures to maintain safe train operations. It has recently issued its "deep dive" report about those failures at Metro-North railroad, about which I have a lot to say, and will say, in Part 3.
Yet, FRA seems willing to allow the restriction of and delay to PTC systems when the very recommendations generated in its "deep dive" emphasize the need for the rapid installation of this system.
I wish I were so naive as to think 100 days from now, some sort of collective shock of recognition will travel through the industry and its regulators and they will all state "Whatever were we thinking about?" I am not.
March 15, 2014
Look out! Your good thing is about to come to an end
--Mable John, "Your Good Thing" Stax Records