Vermont: No Positive Train Control (PTC), Lot of Rail/highway Crossings Needing Active Warning Systems
The recent death here in Vermont of a person walking along the tracks hit by the Vermonter Amtrak train and the tragic—technically preventable if the planned investments had been completed---four fatalities and dozens of injuries both point to America’s antiquated rail safety systems. There are probably about 30 rail/highway crossings along Amtrak routes here which are very dangerous with no active warning or insufficient active warning—many which underwent review team analyses recommending active warning (gates and flashers) or upgrades to gates/flashers from flashers only. There are literally only a handful of busy rail/highway crossings in the State with sufficient sight distances to obviate the need for active warning. And “positive train control” (PTC), the system which stops down train speeds or literally stops them when required when engineers make mistakes like the one in Philadelphia—not going to be done according to one rail policy maker here as Vermont’s two passenger trains a day along with a few freight trains does not as of today force PTC installation. Another safety “compromise”? Yes, PTC is expensive, about $100,000 a mile. Still federal highway officials value a life saved at $9.1 million (1999 dollars). In New York State, for example, every public crossing with a passenger train has active warning so as the Ethan Allen Amtrak trains cruises though several crossings in Rutland, Fair Haven and Castleton without active warning, the train enters New York State where every crossing has at least flashers. Two recent Vermont injuries at rail/highway crossings along the Amtrak Vermonter route both involved crossings with no active warning system. Oh, one in four rail-highway crossing injuries is fatal compared to one in 75 car occupant injuries.