Federal investigators are closing in on exactly what put a Metrolink commuter train, carrying 225 passengers leaving Los Angeles, into a deadly head-on collision Sept. 12 with a Union Pacific freight train in the San Fernando Valley.
The death toll is at 25, and more than 135 are injured, many critically.
But this much we already know: It didn't have to happen. But it did, because for years the railroad industry in America has resisted installation of existing collision-avoidance technology, claiming it costs too much.
This technology can avoid head-on train collisions, and can also keep a train from crashing into another train stopped ahead of it on the tracks. Both types of accidents have occurred in Southern California, killing and seriously injuring commuters.
This is simply unacceptable.
So, this past week, I introduced legislation with Sen. Barbara Boxer that would put a stop to these needless and tragic accidents.
The legislation would require railroads to install "positive train control" systems, which prevent collisions from happening. High-risk lines, where passenger and freight share the same tracks, would have to have it in place by the end of 2012. All other major rail lines would have to have it in place by the end of 2014.
Railroads that fail to comply would face fines of up to $100,000.
The technology works by equipping trains with global positioning system technology that monitors location and speed. These systems detect excessive speed, improperly aligned switches, whether trains are on the wrong track, unauthorized train movements and missed signals.
If engineers do not comply with signals, the system automatically brings the trains to a stop.
The National Transportation Safety Board strongly endorses this technology, and, according to a congressional report published this year, has identified 52 rail accidents over the past decade that could have been prevented had it been in place.
And a Senate Commerce Committee report concluded that this technology could prevent 40 to 60 train collisions a year - and prevent, on average, seven fatalities and 55 injuries a year.
Despite the mounting death toll, the railroad industry continues to resist.
And so, passengers riding trains on high-risk routes have only signal lights and the attentiveness of train crews to prevent fatal collisions.
Positive train control provides protection when one of these critical links fails.
We know this technology can save lives. And it could help ensure the future of America's railroads.