Last updated: 08:25 PM ET, Sun May 17 2015

Amtrak Installs Safety Systems, Aiming for Return to Full Service Monday

Impacting Travel | Michael Isenbek | May 17, 2015

Amtrak Installs Safety Systems, Aiming for Return to Full Service Monday

Image via Twitter

Shortly after the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) issued a list of demands aimed at improving safety within Amtrak’s busy Northeast Corridor (NEC), the rail company has worked "around the clock," to get service up and running again in "complete compliance," with FRA decrees, company president Joseph Boardman said to the Associated Press.

And the efforts of the staff and crew appear to be to the liking of the FRA, as Amtrak announced  that full service will resume on Monday. It will kick off with departures from New York City at 5:30 a.m. and Philadelphia at 5:53 a.m., and all Acela Express, Northeast Regional and other services will operate for the first time since the accident, according to the AP.

Acting FRA administrator Sarah Feinberg had said to CNN that Amtrak must address all concerns before full service can resume on the NEC.

The Washington-to-New York train derailed Tuesday on the curve located at Frankford Junction, just north of Philadelphia. Amtrak just spent the weekend installing Automatic Train Control (ATC) systems on the northbound side of the tracks. These systems warn the engineer to slow down, and if there is no response, it occurs automatically. ATC was, however, already in place going southbound.

"The rationale behind the decision not to install (ATC going northbound) is that the drop in speed (from 80 to 50) is considered within the risk envelope," Amtrak explained to CNN in an email. "Going the other way, the decrease in speed is much greater going into the curve (110 to 50), so that's why ATC was installed there."

But the derailed Northeast Regional Train 188 was going 106 mph when it entered the curve, according to the NTSB. "Had the train been operating at max authorized speed heading into the curve, it would not have come off the tracks," Amtrak wrote to CNN.

Before returning to normal service, Amtrak was also required, as per the official FRA release, to assess risk “In areas where approach speed is significantly higher than curve speed, and increase “the amount and frequency of signage” informing engineers and conductors of the speed limit.  

According to CNN, improvement to safety measures isn't at an end even with this weekend's work. Amtrak is in the process of installing a smarter version of ATC known as Positive Train Control (PTC). In addition to ATC’s engineer warning function, it “helps the train receive the appropriate information about speed restrictions and routes,” with transponders placed on the tracks, according to Amtrak, via CNN.

All the nation’s railroads are required to have PTC up and running by this December, in response to another fatal accident that took place in 2008, but the system hasn’t reached the Philadelphia area yet.

The NTSB’s Robert Sumwalt and Boardman told CNN that Tuesday’s derailment would not have happened if PTC had been installed.

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