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Could PTC prevent serious injuries in California train accidents?

Many of our readers may be familiar with the horrific train accident that occurred near Chatsworth, California back in Sept. 2008. The deadly train accident claimed the lives of 25 individuals, including the engineer, and injured 135 others. Forty-six of those people suffered critically serious injuries and total damages associated with the collision numbered in the neighborhood of $12 million. This accident wasn't just a catastrophic event for the state of California, but for the entire country.

Many, in fact, consider it one of the worst in the history of United States railways. The root cause of the tragedy was likely the fact that the engineer was distracted from exchanging text messages while he was operating the train. Because of that fact, he missed the signal that would have let him know he needed to stop his four-car commuter train to avoid colliding with a 17-car freight train approaching from the opposite direction.

Another likely contributing factor in this accident, some allege, is the fact that the train lacked any sort of positive train control (PTC) system. PTC utilizes GPS to enact automatic safeguards in events where an engineer either loses control over the train or is in danger of colliding head-on with another train. While proponents have been pushing to enforce railroads to enact PTC nationwide, detractors state that it's too cost-prohibitive and that the system may already be obsolete.

Of course, for California residents who have suffered serious injuries or lost loved ones in train accidents like the one outside Chatsworth, money seems a small price to pay to save lives and suffering. Those who have incurred astronomical medical and related bills due to such a collision may be able to use personal injury or wrongful death laws in order to seek reimbursement for their expenses. No innocent victim of a train accident should have to suffer financially in addition to all of the physical and emotional pain they have already had to endure.

Source: The Verge, "Regulators and railways spar over Positive Train Control, a controversial safety system that won't arrive in time," Matt Stroud, April 15, 2013

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