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December 4, 2013

NYC train derailment airs queries about technology

YONKERS, N.Y. (AP) — The revelation that a New York City commuter train derailed while barreling around a sharp curve at nearly three times the speed limit is fueling questions about whether automated crash-avoidance technology could have prevented the carnage.

Safety officials for decades have championed what’s known as positive train control technology, which uses GPS, wireless radio and computers to monitor trains and stop them from colliding, derailing or going the wrong way. But the railroad industry has sought to postpone having to install the systems because of the high cost and technological issues.

Investigators haven’t yet determined whether the weekend wreck, which killed four people and injured more than 60 others, was the result of human error or mechanical trouble. But some safety experts said the tragedy might not have happened if Metro-North Railroad had the technology, and a lawmaker said the derailment underscored the need for it.

“This incident, if anything, heightens the importance of additional safety measures, like that one,” said U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, which also is served by Metro-North. “I’d be very loath to be more flexible or grant more time.”

The train was going 82 mph as it entered a 30 mph turn Sunday morning and ran off the track, National Transportation Safety Board member Earl Weener said Monday. He cited information extracted from the train’s two data recorders; investigators also began interviewing the train’s crew.

The speed stunned officials — “I gulped,” said U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.

“Certainly we want to make sure that that operator is disciplined in an appropriate way. There’s such a gross deviation from the norm, that there may be other agencies that also want to take a look at his behavior in operating the train,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday. “That amount of speed is certainly unjustifiable.”

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