Deadly SC train crash anniversary highlights safety changes

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COLUMBIA, SC (WSPA) – A year ago a train crash near Columbia killed killed two people and injured more than 100.

Now new safety measures may keep a similar crash from happening again.  

Railroad experts say it’s not a perfect fix.

Since the crash railroad companies have ramped up efforts to install what’s known as Positive Train Control or PTC, which, in essence, allows a computer to stop a train in trouble. 

And while it was mandated by the Federal Government well before the crash in Cayce, that crash, in particular, showed the industry just how much the new system was needed.

On February 4th 2018, an Amtrack train carrying passengers from the north crashed into a sitting CSX train in Cayce, SC near Columbia killing two train workers and injuring 116 people.

Tom Howie, the General Manager of Rail Training Consulting, followed the NTSB investigaiton closely.  

The main finding was to mandate new safety measures during upgrades.

Here’s why: The report found the CSX train crew had left a switch in reverse position, which was  a human error that would have easily been prevented by a backup signal protection that existed but that happened to be out of operation that day.

”That’s the huge irony, they had suspended the protection they had, so they could accommodate and go to a higher level of protection, and during the suspension there was a human error that caused the accident,” said Howie. 

 The higher level of protection they were installing was Positive Train Control which was mandated by the Federal government to be completed first by 2015, and then after a delay, by 2020.  

PTC will eventually cover 65,000 miles of route track (out of 140,000 in the nation) that includes all passenger lines as well as tracks with trains that carry hazardous material.  So far about 80% of the required track now has PTC. 

”What it does is it connects the train with a GPS System and a computer and it also connects the train with a track signal system. And if the train is not compliant with speed restrictions, if the train is about to enter a territory for which it’s not authorized, if the train is speeding it will stop the train,” said Howie.  

Despite the safety improvements, Howie notes, PTC is not a perfect fix. It provides no protection against crossing accidents, trespassers or most track or equipment failure.

“It doesn’t eliminate the danger everywhere, that’s all I’m saying,” said Howie.  

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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