Following Hearing on Amtrak, Cantwell Calls for Analysis of Gaps in Positive Train Control Implementation

PTC could have stopped DuPont Amtrak derailment, according to NTSB

WASHINGTON, D.C. – After pushing rail officials to make safety a top priority at a Senate hearing last month, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the Ranking Member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, sent a letter to the Federal Railroad Administration on the implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC) technology for rail safety and what measures FRA requires in areas where Amtrak operates without PTC. 

“I am writing to seek more information about how the Federal Railroad Administration (“FRA”) ensures the safety of intercity passenger rail service on over 1,400 miles of track where Positive Train Control (“PTC”) safety technology is not implemented,” Cantwell wrote in her letter to FRA Administrator Ron Batory. 

Last month, an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board found that, had PTC been deployed, it could have prevented the fatal 2017 derailment of Amtrak 501 near DuPont, WA. 

“While taking the train is generally a safe way to travel, in December 2017 tragedy struck near DuPont, Washington when the Amtrak Cascades 401 derailed and fell onto the highway below, claiming three lives and injuring 65 people. The National Transportation Safety Board found that PTC would have prevented this tragedy,” Cantwell wrote. 

“Since the development of PTC technology nearly 50 years ago, there have been more than 150 accidents that this lifesaving technology could have prevented,” Cantwell continued. “At a recent Senate hearing, witnesses representing Amtrak and the NTSB expressed concerns about ensuring intercity passenger rail safety where PTC is not installed.” 

Cantwell’s letter also seeks information from FRA on additional rail safety measures the agency requires for areas where Amtrak operates without PTC technology, including requirements for crewmember training, speed limit action plans, and other operational risk mitigations.  

In her role on the Commerce Committee, Cantwell has been a consistent advocate for increasing accountability and investment in rail safety in the United States. In July of 2015, as the Senate considered the DRIVE Act, Senator Cantwell expressed concern that the bill would delay PTC implementation and roll back safety protections. In December of 2017, Cantwell joined her Senate colleagues from the Pacific Northwest to demand railroads be held accountable for PTC implementation. In January 2018, Cantwell led members of the Washington Congressional delegation in calling for a comprehensive update from the Federal Railroad Administration on the nationwide implementation of PTC. And in March 2018, after calling for a hearing in the wake of the DuPont derailment, Cantwell pressed Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson on rail safety and PTC implementation. 

The full text of the letter can be found HERE. 

Video from Senator Cantwell’s opening statement at last month’s hearing is available HERE, and audio is HERE. 

Video from Senator Cantwell’s Q&A with witnesses is available HERE, and audio is HERE.