POLITICS

Amtrak Seeks Fast U.S. Approval For Automated Braking Feature

05/19/2015 07:00 am ET | Updated May 19, 2016

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON, May 18 (Reuters) - Amtrak is seeking expedited approval to equip the Philadelphia site of last week's high-speed derailment with an automated braking system that could have prevented the fatal mishap, according to a federal regulatory document reviewed by Reuters.

The passenger rail operator told the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last Thursday that it would ask for special temporary authority to use a radio frequency needed to operate a speed-control system known as positive train control, or PTC, in "the accident area," an FCC document shows.

Amtrak said previous efforts to obtain the radio bandwidth had been thwarted. In a blog posted over the weekend, the rail operator said litigation and regulatory proceedings "obstructed" its attempts to purchase frequencies on the open market between 2010 and 2014.

The FCC declined to comment, but FCC staff said in the document that they would act expeditiously on any Amtrak request. In the past, special temporary authority has been granted within days of an FCC review in cases without major issues, officials said.

The document, requested by Congress in the aftermath of the May 12 train wreck that killed eight passengers and injured more than 200 others, was received by lawmakers last Thursday.

Robert Sumwalt, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board, said that PTC could have prevented the accident. The derailment occurred as the train headed north from Washington to New York and entered a sharp curve at more than twice the 50 mile-(80km)-per-hour speed limit.

PTC is a state-of-the-art rail control system capable of slowing and even stopping trains to prevent accidents. Congress has required the U.S. rail industry to adopt PTC by the end of 2015. Amtrak insists that it will meet the deadline.

Although Amtrak notified the FCC of its plans to seek special authority two days after the accident, an Amtrak spokeswoman said the decision was not a direct result of the derailment. Amtrak has been discussing the topic with the FCC since it won approval for its purchase of PTC wireless spectrum for the New York-to-Washington line in March, the spokeswoman said.

Amtrak officials are expected to hold a briefing on Tuesday to discuss PTC plans.

If the request is granted, Obama administration officials said Amtrak could operate at the 220MHz radio frequency for up to 180 days at the accident site and the authorization could be renewed at the end of the period.

But before deploying the system near the accident site, officials said Amtrak must complete an engineering study to determine whether the chosen frequency would interfere with the ability of nearby residents to receive broadcasts from two Philadelphia television stations.

The FCC document said Amtrak intended to complete and file the study within the next few days, setting up an FCC review as early as next week.

The Federal Railroad Administration on Saturday ordered Amtrak to install an older speed-control system called automatic train control on all north-bound trains along the area where the crash occurred, as a prerequisite for resuming normal service on Monday.

The House transportation committee is expected to hold a hearing on the deadly mishap but no date has been set. (Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Ken Wills)

Also on HuffPost:

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Emergency personnel work at the scene of a deadly train derailment, Wednesday, May 13, 2015, in Philadelphia.
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Emergency personnel work the scene of a deadly train wreck, Tuesday, May 12, 2015, in Philadelphia. An Amtrak train headed to New York City derailed and crashed in Philadelphia.
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Emergency personnel help a passenger at the scene of a train wreck, Tuesday, May 12, 2015, in Philadelphia.
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    A crime scene investigator looks inside a train car after a train wreck, Tuesday, May 12, 2015, in Philadelphia.
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Emergency personnel help a passenger at the scene of a train wreck, Tuesday, May 12, 2015, in Philadelphia.
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Emergency personnel work the scene of a train wreck, Tuesday, May 12, 2015, in Philadelphia.
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Emergency personnel work the scene of a deadly train wreck, Tuesday, May 12, 2015, in Philadelphia.
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Emergency personnel work the scene of a train wreck, Tuesday, May 12, 2015, in Philadelphia.
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Emergency personnel work the scene of a deadly train wreck, Tuesday, May 12, 2015, in Philadelphia.
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Emergency personnel work the scene of a train wreck, Tuesday, May 12, 2015, in Philadelphia.
  • Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
    Rescue crews and investigators inspect the site of an Amtrak train derailment in Philadelphia on May 13, 2015. At least five people have been killed and about 50 others injured Tuesday night when a passenger train derailed in the U.S. city of Philadelphia. The train was heading from Washington to New York when it went off the track in the Port Richmond neighborhood of Philadelphia.
  • Win McNamee via Getty Images
    Investigators and first responders work near the wreckage of an Amtrak passenger train carrying more than 200 passengers from Washington, DC to New York that derailed late last night May 13, 2015 in north Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At least five people were killed and more than 50 others were injured in the crash.
  • Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
    Rescue crews and investigators inspect the site of an Amtrak train derailment in Philadelphia on May 13, 2015.
  • Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
    Rescue crews and investigators inspect the site of an Amtrak train derailment in Philadelphia on May 13, 2015.
  • JEWEL SAMAD via Getty Images
    Rescuers work around derailed carriages of an Amtrak train in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on May 13, 2015.
  • TIMOTHY A. CLARY via Getty Images
    Passengers injured in an Amtrak train derailment who were bused from to New York from Philadelphia, walk through Penn Station May 13, 2015 in New York.
Suggest a correction