New Jersey Transit Lagging on Positive Train Control

By Greg Kohn

What has been done to make trains more safe in New Jersey?

Last fall a commuter train that was approaching the Hoboken Terminal crashed into barriers at the end of the tracks, injuring 100 passengers. Another person who was waiting on the platform was killed when part of the ceiling collapsed. Just before the crash, the train accelerated and it was subsequently reported that the engineer, who had been diagnosed with sleep apnea, had fallen asleep.

At the time of this tragic accident, questions were raised as to why the commuter train did not have safety technology known as positive train control, and whether this technology could have prevented the crash.

What is Positive Train Control?

Positive Train Control or PTC is a system of sensors that are embedded along stretches of track that is designed to monitor train speeds. The GPS-based system collects and sends information about train speed and other data by radio signal to an operating station. If the train is moving too fast or not breaking adequately, onboard equipment slows or stops the train.

In 2008, after Congress passed the Railway Safety Act, the Federal Railroad Administration began requiring railroad companies to begin installing PTC to protect passengers from derailments, collisions and other mishaps. But lawmakers did not provide funding for this initiative, which is designed to install PTC on about 60,000 miles of railroad track across the county. The mandatory deadline is December 2018.

Now, recently released data shows that NJ Transit is not up to speed on installing this technology. However, NJ Transit is not alone, and other commuter rail lines, faced with budgetary constraints, have struggled to allocate the resources to install this technology. This is a complicated endeavor that requires laying fiber-optic cable, procuring and installing equipment in train cars, deploying the radio signal transmitting system, and training engineers on the use of PTC. In short, the report found that no NJ Transit trains have been fully equipped, required track segments have not been completed, and no employees have been trained on PTC.

The Takeaway

The question remains as to where NJ Transit is going to come up with the funds to install the technology, and whether it will meet the December 2018 deadline. At the same time, it is unclear it PTC could have prevented the Hoboken crash since this technology is not designed for use in train stations. Nonetheless, if you were injured in a mass transit accident in New Jersey, you should engage the services of an experienced personal injury attorney.

About the Author
Greg Kohn is a partner at Nagel Rice and specializes in complex civil litigation cases, including professional malpractice, personal injury, class actions, wrongful death, products liability, and commercial litigation.  He has extensive experience representing clients in both state and federal court. Greg has tried many jury trials to verdict and has recovered over $50 million in settlements and verdicts in all types of personal injury matters including automobile accidents, wrongful death cases, slip and falls, and other catastrophic injury cases. Greg also handles medical malpractice cases, involving misdiagnoses, wrongful birth, and delayed cancer diagnosis. If you have questions regarding this article, you can contact Greg here.