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What are some current initiatives to address train accidents?

Train accidents and train safety have become a hot topic ever since the movie Unstoppable came out in 2010, which depicted a train out of control pulling rail car after rail car carrying dangerous chemicals at break neck speeds through densely populated human communities.

In the movie, a series of human errors caused by an operator who was completely distracted, trigger a chain of events that put the train on a track of destruction and potential human annihilation. To ease the public's mind, a year after the movie was launched, the Railroad Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC) launched an initiative with the main objective of preventing railroad employee distractions chiefly caused by electronic devices.

Since smart phones have become an almost integral part of modern life, their ubiquity has been the cause of some warranted concern, since their use in the workplace can distract their users from performing their jobs with full attention and without distraction. In the train yard, a distracted worker performing critical safety checks prior to boarding and launching a train can mean the difference between life and death not just for the people on the train, but for the communities that host the train tracks.

Another train safety initiative currently under review is called Positive Train Control (PTC) system. In a nutshell, the PTC system when fully operational, will process data from the field such as train speeds and their locations and trajectories, and by utilizing integrated command and control technologies will then analyze the data in real time to help significantly improve railroad safety.

The system will be able to greatly reduce the chance for railway collisions between trains by monitoring and detecting usage of train lines by multiple trains at the same time. This will also, in turn, reduce, if not eliminate, casualties to road and railway workers, as well as mitigate equipment damage from speed accidents.

The PTC system is currently one of the most anticipated initiatives by The National Transportation Safety Board. Small scale versions of the PTC System have been pilot tested, but the system is yet to be deployed on a wide scale.

Source: Federal Railroad Administration, "Current Initiatives," Accessed December 8, 2014

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