By Robert Manning, RailPAC Director
Printed in The Desert Sun, Palm Springs, February 8, 2009
Sometimes it takes a major tragedy to provide something good. And that is exactly what happened this past September when the Metrolink train crashed into the Union Pacific freight train in Chatsworth, killing and injuring people.
As a result of this accident, the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 was signed into law by President Bush on Oct. 16. The single most important item that this comprehensive bill contained is positive train control. If positive train control had been installed on this train, the accident could not have happened.
Positive Train Control is an electronic device that works in conjunction with GPS systems and sensors installed in the train tracks with a monitoring devise inside the cab of the train`s locomotive. This system can immediately detect such things as the train going to fast, passing a red signal, and so on. The system will automatically send an alarm inside the locomotives cab and at the same time, apply the trains braking system.
The Federal Railroad Administration has been attempting to mandate PTC since the early 1990s, but, because of strong opposition from the railroads, including Metrolink, this had not happened. PTC must now be installed in all of the major railroads including Amtrak by 2015. Metrolink will have PTC by 2012.
This legislation also contained many provisions dealing with the future and funding of Amtrak. Amtrak will now receive $13.6 billion over the next five years, although each year the money will have to be appropriated by Congress. Also, this bill increases operating and capital grants to Amtrak, develops state passenger rail corridors and provides funding for high speed rail corridors.
The long distance train the Sunset Limited, which is the only train that passes through Palm Springs three days a week, could eventually resume service to Florida from New Orleans.
There is strong support here and across its route to make this a daily train.
President Obama, prior to his election, gave strong support to vastly improving both freight and passenger trains systems in our country. Obama is certainly aware of the need for a first rate passenger system especially when you compare our system to Europe, Asia or even China, where they are investing billions into improving their rail systems. These countries are clearly aware that passenger trains are very, fuel efficient, beneficial for the environment and a safe way to travel.