While the New York Metro commuter train that barrelled around a curve and derailed did not employ technology to automatically slow or stop the speeding train, there is one local transit line that has been using such a system for four decades: PATCO.
The 14.1 mile long Port Authority Transit Corporation (PATCO) Speedline has utilized Automatic Train Control (ATC) technology since the first high-speed train departed on its journey from Lindenwold, N.J. on Feb. 15, 1969.
“It was a cutting-edge system in its day and it still works quite well,” says Timothy Ireland, spokesman for the Delaware River Port Authority, which runs the line.
Relays along sections of the tracks deliver what are called “cab codes” to the train’s conductor via antennas at the bottom of the train cars, according to Ireland. Those codes designate a speed limit and that speed can change depending on a variety of factors including the location of other trains, how close a train is to a track switch, navigating curves or changes in the track and the distance to a red stop signal.
“If an operator fails to respond to a change in cab codes, or if the operator attempts to run the train faster than the speed associated with a particular cab code, the train will brake automatically to the allowable authorized speed,” Ireland said.
Should something break and the train stop receiving cab codes, Ireland says the train would automatically break to a complete stop. He adds that only under an emergency can the system be overridden and the system’s operation is checked before the train leaves the rail yard.
Such speed control systems, called positive train control, have been heavily discussed over the past few days in light of the NYC Metro-North commuter train derailment in the Bronx on Sunday morning.
In that incident, the train was traveling 82 mph before running into a sharp curve that had a speed limit of 30 mph. The rail cars jumped the tracks and careened down an embankment toward the Harlem River – killing four people and injuring dozens.
SEPTA officials told NBC10 on Monday that the transit authority recently completed a $150 million safety upgrade to install ATC on its lines. Amtrak also uses two similar systems along sections of its Northeast Corridor lines aimed at preventing speeding and stop signal running.
Congress has mandated that positive control systems be deployed by mass transit and freight rail operators, like PATCO, SEPTA and Amtrak, by 2015.
The PATCO Speedline carries an average of 38,000 riders along 13 stops from Lindenwold, Camden County, N.J., across the Benjamin Franklin Bridge and to 15th and Locust Streets in Center City Philadelphia.
Ireland says the rail line is working to upgrade its wireless radio technology to the public safety 800Mhz band, which segregates the radio from commercial transmissions, and refurbish its 121 rail cars.