FRA to issue emergency orders for Amtrak operations in Northeast Corridor

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WASHINGTON, D.C. - Federal railroad regulators say on Saturday that Amtrak will have to take “immediate actions” to ensure passenger train safety on the Northeast Corridor. Amtrak says that it will implement the emergency rules.

Federal Railroad Administration officials say they will issue formal emergency orders next week that will require Amtrak to make sure automatic train control systems work northbound through Philadelphia at and near the site of an Amtrak Northeast Regional train derailment on Tuesday; assess the risk of all curves along the NEC; and increase the amount and frequency of speed limit signs along the corridor.

FRA spokesman Kevin Thompson tells Trains NewsWire that the FRA chose these action items to be part of coming emergency orders because rail safety investigators say the regional train was going too fast when it derailed, and not for more specific reasons. Thompson says the FRA has been working on the orders for the “past one or two days.”

Northbound Northeast Regional train No. 188 sped through a curve in Philadelphia at speeds in excess of 100 mph on Tuesday evening. The train derailed at the curve, with a passenger-train speed limit of 50 mph, killing eight passengers.  So far, investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board, the FRA, and the FBI are examining wreckage and gathering evidence in an attempt to determine why the train was “overspeeding" when it derailed.

In an emailed statement to news media, Amtrak says that it will “immediately implement” FRA’s orders and review whether it is able to activate portions of a positive train control system where it is installed on the NEC, but is not yet complete. Amtrak’s PTC system is known as the advanced civil speed enforcement system, or ACSES. ACSES operates on certain portions of the corridor, but is not installed and operational through Philadelphia.

“These are just initial steps, but we believe they will immediately improve the safety for passengers on the Northeast Corridor,” FRA Acting Administrator Sarah Feinberg says in the FRA release. “While full implementation of positive train control is the most important step that must be taken to improve safety, it is not the only action that we will require of Amtrak and other railroads. As we learn more from the ongoing investigation into this derailment, we will take additional steps and enforcement actions as necessary.”

Automatic train control is a system that will slow or stop a train that is moving too fast for a given stretch of track between installed control points based on signals for the area. The system is unable to slow a train based on temporary restrictions or in small sections of track that lack their own control points, such as in construction zones or curves. Positive train control is the generic name for train control systems that would slow or stop a train that is moving too fast anywhere along a PTC-covered section of track based on computer-updated speed restrictions and conditions and in areas where train crews are performing maintenance.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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