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Many trains don’t use widely available auto brakes

December 15, 2013 • Business


FILE- In this Dec. 1, 2013 file photo, emergency personnel respond to the scene of a Metro-North passenger train derailment in the Bronx borough of New York. Metro-North trains are equipped with an automatic breaking system that might have prevented the crash, but the system was in place to regulate the distance between trains, not to control speeds as trains approached curves, or passed over hills and bridges. Since the crash, the speed limit was lowered on the approach to the curve, plus an alarm will sound and an automatic braking system will engage is a train approaches the bend too fast. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — After a speeding Metro-North Railroad commuter train barreled into a curve and derailed in New York City on Dec. 1, safety advocates said similar deadly accidents might soon be avoided. Railroads across the country are preparing to deploy high-tech control systems that will let computers automatically slow trains that are moving too fast or headed for a collision.

Yet there is already low-tech equipment, widely available since the Great Depression, that could have prevented the crash, and every Metro-North train already has it.

For many years, the trains have been outfitted with control systems that will sound an alarm if an engineer exceeds a designated speed or blows through a red light, then robotically slam on the brakes if the driver doesn’t respond.

Historically, though, the system has been used on Metro-North mainly to keep trains from colliding, not to enforce speed limits on curves, hills or bridges.

That meant that no alarm sounded when engineer William Rockefeller failed to slow as he approached a tight curve in the Bronx. Federal investigators said the train was moving at 82 mph, well above the curve’s 30 mph speed limit. Login to read more

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