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Federal regulations released for new train safety technology

Federal railroad officials Tuesday unveiled regulations for equipping the nation’s freight and passenger trains with automated braking systems required by Congress after the deadly 2008 Metrolink crash in Chatsworth.

“We believe this final rule, as mandated by Congress, is a giant step toward ensuring the safety and reliability of our freight, commuter and intercity passenger rail routes,” said Joseph Szabo, administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration.

The rules will regulate the design and installation of positive train control technology that must be implemented on all freight and passenger railroads by December 2015. Safety experts have said that such a system could have prevented the Chatsworth crash, which killed 25 and injured 135.

The accident, one of the worst in California history, occurred when a Metrolink engineer who was text-messaging on his cellphone failed to stop at a red signal and collided head-on with a Union Pacific freight train, according to federal investigators.

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Metrolink officials have vowed to install positive train control by 2012.

Under study since the mid-1980s, the systems send and receive data transmitted by wireless signals about the location, speed and direction of trains. The technology relies on digital radio links, global positioning systems and trackside computers that aid dispatchers and rail crews.

If an engineer fails to stop at a red signal, exceeds a speed limit or is on the wrong track, positive train control is designed to automatically stop the locomotive -- both if they are on a collision course -- and alert dispatchers to the problem.

Federal officials said tens of thousands of positive train control devices would be installed nationally along 69,000 miles of track and aboard 30,000 engines. They estimated that the systems would cost about $5.5 billion to install and $820 million annually to maintain and repair.

The National Transportation Safety Board made the first recommendation for positive train control more than 30 years ago.

In August 1999, the federal railroad administration’s Safety Advisory Committee issued a report stating that out of a sample of 6,400 train accidents of all types, 2,659 could have been prevented by some form of positive train control.

dan.weikel@latimes.com


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