Congress had its first opportunity on Tuesday to confront railroad officials about what happened the night of May 12, when an Amtrak train derailed, killing eight and injuring more than 200 people.
At a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing, members asked officials from Amtrak, the National Transportation Safety Board, and the Federal Railroad Administration about the decades-old technology officials say could've prevented the May accident, if only it had been implemented before the crash.
That technology, called positive train control, or PTC, is designed to prevent collisions between trains and mitigate speed-induced derailments.
"I still believe the single greatest contribution that my generation of railroaders can make to this industry is to implement PTC as rapidly as possible," said Amtrak President and CEO Joseph Boardman, his voice breaking. "And I promise you that by the end of this year this system, which will dramatically enhance safety, will be complete and operational on the NEC"—the Northeast Corridor, which is the nation's busiest rail line.
Boardman was citing the Dec. 31, 2015 deadline Congress gave several of the nation's rail operators to implement PTC. NTSB Chair Christopher Hart said Tuesday that most won't comply with that deadline—Amtrak is virtually the only railroad that's slated to do so. Sarah Feinberg, acting administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, cited lack of funding for its insufficient implementation, and said her agency has urged "year after year" for more funding from Congress so that commuter railroads and Amtrak could install it.