Federal investigators are trying to figure out why a rail switch was in the wrong position, sending an Amtrak train into a freight train and killing a conductor and an engineer in South Carolina.
But they already know what could have prevented the wreck that injured more than 100 passengers: a GPS-based system called “positive train control,” which knows the location of all trains and the positions of all switches in an area, and can prevent the kind of human error that puts two trains on the same track.
“It could have avoided this accident. That’s what it’s designed to do,” said National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt.
Regulators have demanded the implementation of positive train control for decades, and the technology is now in place in the Northeast, but railroads that operate tracks used by Amtrak elsewhere in the U.S. have won repeated extensions from the government. The deadline for installing such equipment is now the end of 2018.
CSX Corp. — the freight railroad operator that runs the stretch of track in the South Carolina crash — issued a statement expressing condolences but said nothing about the cause.
“Business as usual must end,” Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said after the crash.