Amtrak CEO threatens to suspend traffic on rails lacking positive train control

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Amtrak's CEO is threatening to stop traffic on railroads that do not install positive train control by the end of 2018.

CEO Richard Anderson said in a hearing in front of a U.S. House subcommittee on Thursday that recent crashes, including the one in Cayce, could have been avoided had positive train control been implemented.

"There are a host of railroads that appear unlikely to achieve sufficient progress to apply for the alternative PTC implementation schedule and for those segments, Amtrak will suspend operations," he said.

Anderson testified it will leave Amtrak with a tough decision for the railroads who apply to the Federal Railroad Administration for the extension.

"At Amtrak, that question raises for us, even if that alternative is approved, if we will operate," he said.

Positive train control uses signals embedded on trains as well as along the tracks that help monitor a train's speed and location. An automated computer system is then able to slow or stop a train, to prevent a collision.

The federal government mandated in 2008 that all passenger railroads and large freight railroads have PTC implemented by 2015. Railroads filed for an extension that year through the end of 2018

Louis Billingsley, a former conductor with CSX, said human error is to blame in part because the crews are extremely fatigued.

"We're on duty for 12 or 14 hours and then on top of driving we were being very fatigued," he said. "These guys are so tired right now their mental awareness is down to a low. I kind of attribute that to the accident in Cayce."

Anderson testified the current system leaves too much up to human error.

"The system is too vulnerable to single points of failure," he said. "Many of which are dependent upon the memory of a single human being interacting with a complicated system."

Amtrak did not specify which routes would be affected. Anderson testified Amtrak will negotiate with the FRA about how to handle traffic that won't meet the December 2018 deadline.

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