Implementing PTC for Railroads, Could Hoboken Incident Been Avoided?

Story By: Richard Thomas

Photos By: Sol Tucker

Hoboken, NJ–

The Inside of the Lackawanna Train Station Used by NJT Trains at Hoboken, NJ as seen on the day of the accident.

With all of the federal mandates that have gone into place for railroads, especially ones that carry commuters, the accident in Hoboken raises new questions as to whether PTC would have or would not have prevented this accident in the historic Lackawanna Station.

Investigators said they have interviewed the train’s engineer, a veteran who does not remember what happened leading up to the crash, and does not know what caused it. The NTSB has said it has not found any track issues or signal abnormalities that would have caused the deadly crash, though officials have said they are continuing to investigate both.

So what caused this accident to happen that resulted in the death of one young promising 34 year old who just moved to New Jersey to start a new life? Many questions will take months to answer as the NTSB conducts its investigation, but questions remain around the PTC that has been mandated by the Federal Government, but has yet to be put in place in many places such as this section of the NJT.  Most of the Amtrak lines are within compliance, but some sections in the Northeast Corridor have yet to finish their completion.

One of the bigger problems facing all commuter operations is the days of experience saving a train is dwindling very quickly. Many of the engineers and conductors have never stepped foot into freight operations and experienced some of the headaches that come with a 10,000 foot train and 18,000 tons right behind the locomotives.

Do we need to find answers, or just look to computers and automation to solve the problem of deaths occurring. Unlike stations like Union Station in D.C, there very few places left that have tower controlled switches or operations of local control, which may have prevented something of this nature. Interaction between train crews and dispatchers and missing points seems to be the norm now a days.

Many questions remain unanswered, but to escape a train barreling towards the station at more than 10mph and for just one person to lose their life is simply amazing. We have a long way to go, but if these programs are to work the way they are supposed to, then we need to make sure they are in place or not at all at this point. It seems the days of old time traditional railroading are gone and the new computer generation has taken over with more errors and man power with less education about railroad knowledge than desktop applications on how to run a locomotive.

We must remember one thing, railroading has been operation in and out of New York and New Jersey since the Rockafeller days. For many years, steam and diesel ruled the rails and made it from point A to B without many issues. Of course we had accidents like Chase, Georgetown Jct and Chatsworth that much of was ruled human error, some of which implemented new laws and regulations, but the accidents happened. I will wait for the day that PTC prevents a major accident and realize that a computer just cant replace a human at the throttle ever.

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