Report: SEPTA on Track With Safety Improvements

Tech could've saved Amtrak lives; soon available on Regional Rail.

Septa regional rail train

Photo Credit: Jeff Fusco

By year’s end, SEPTA may well be running one of the safest passenger rail systems in the United States.

That’s because the transit agency is among the few on track to meet a federal mandate to install “positive train control” technology throughout its Regional Rail system by the federal deadline of Jan. 1. A new report from the Federal Railroad Administration shows SEPTA is just one of 11 railroads — out of 41 nationwide — expected to meet the deadline.

“It may be a photo finish,” SEPTA spokeswoman Jerri Williams told PlanPhilly, which first reported on the FRA report.

Almost half of SEPTA’s 290 locomotives are equipped with the new safety technology. The agency has been taking cars out of service — making trains more crowded — in order to meet the deadline.

Positive Train Control technology is a radio-guided system that prevents trains from exceeding speed limits, going onto wrong tracks, or making incursions into work zones. Authorities believe the technology could’ve prevented the deadly Amtrak accident in May that killed eight passengers in Philadelphia.

“During the last 46 years, NTSB has investigated 145 freight, commuter and transit PTC-preventable railroad accidents,” the FRA reported. “Had PTC been in place at the time of those incidents, the NTSB estimates saved and more than 6,700 injuries would have been avoided.”

Amtrak also expects to meet the Jan. 1 deadline, at least in the Northeast Corridor, the FRA reported.

Congress first mandated 2016 for PTC installation and activation, but since then has only occasionally appropriated money to the project.