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President Signs Rail Safety Bill Containing Anti-Collision Provision Sought By Senators Feinstein and Boxer

-Safety features in law intended to prevent deadly head-on rail collisions-

Washington, DC – President Bush today signed rail legislation that includes a key safety provision, strongly pushed by Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer (both D-Calif.) in the wake of the deadly Metrolink crash near Los Angeles, requiring mandatory collision-avoidance systems on America’s major passenger, commuter and freight lines.

The Rail Safety Improvement Act also reauthorizes Amtrak and authorizes more than $1.5 billion in grants to states for high-speed rail.

“This is a major step forward for rail safety in America,” Senator Feinstein said. “The Metrolink tragedy in Chatsworth exposed a great vulnerability in America’s rail system. We have thousands of miles of track where passenger and freight trains share the same track, headed in opposite directions – with nothing but the engineer and signal lights to prevent collisions.

“This is simply unacceptable, and it’s all the more tragic because National Transportation Safety Board investigators say this terrible accident didn’t have to happen.

“Congress got the message, and I commend the President for signing this legislation into law. The NTSB has pushed for the widespread use of this technology for decades, only to be met with resistance by the railroad industry. Today, it is the law of the land. Collision-avoidance systems will be installed on all major passenger and freight lines in America – and because of it, the safety of all Americans who travel by rail will be greatly improved.”

“The Metrolink tragedy underscored the pressing need to improve the safety of our rail system,” Senator Boxer said. “The legislation signed into law by the President today includes important provisions that will immediately improve rail safety and help prevent future accidents.  I will continue to work with Senator Feinstein to push for the speedy deployment of positive train control technology.”

 Key provisions of the legislation include:

  • Mandatory installation of positive train control systems on rail lines shared by passenger, commuter and freight trains; and on freight-only lines used to transport hazardous materials;
  • Limiting freight train crew shifts to 12 hours a day and 276 hours a month, to cut risk of accidents caused by fatigue; authorizing development of rules limiting hours for commuter rail crews;
  • Authorizing more than $13 billion to Amtrak, to allow for purchase of new rolling stock, to rehabilitate bridges, and to make additional capital improvements throughout the entire system, including in California; and
  • Authorizing more than $1.5 billion for grants to states to finance construction and equipment for high-speed rail corridors, including in California. Other corridors eligible for grant funding include those serving New York and New England; Pennsylvania; the Pacific Northwest; the Southeast and South Central states; the Gulf Coast; the Chicago area; and Florida.


National Transportation Safety Board investigators say positive train control technology could have averted the deadly September 12 collision in Chatsworth between a Union Pacific freight train and a Metrolink commuter train carrying 225 people That accident killed 25 and injured 135, 40 of them critically.

Here is how positive train control systems work:

  • Digital communications are combined with Global Positioning System (GPS) technology to monitor train locations and speeds;
  • These systems can detect: excessive speed; improperly aligned switches; whether trains are on the wrong track; unauthorized train movements; and whether trains have missed signals to slow or stop.
  • If engineers do not comply with signals, the system automatically brings the trains to a stop.

In March, a report published by the Senate Commerce Committee concluded that installation of positive train control systems in the United States would prevent 40 to 60 train collisions annually. The report also found that, on average, these systems would prevent seven fatalities and 55 injuries per year.

Positive train control systems have been put to use only in limited areas, including the Northeast and between Chicago and Detroit. California has no positive control systems in place, although Southern California has the most track shared by freight and passenger trains in the United States.

Rail safety officials have said that in addition to the recent Metrolink crash, positive train control systems could have prevented several fatal train accidents in recent years, including:

  • The August 23, 2002, crash of a freight train into a Metrolink train in Placentia. In that crash, a Burlington Northern engineer and conductor failed to see a yellow signal warning them to slow down and prepare to stop. Three people on the Metrolink train were killed, and more than 260 were injured;
  • The January 6, 2005, derailment of several railroad cars in Graniteville, South Carolina. A railroad employee failed to properly line a track switch, resulting in the derailment. Chlorine gas was released, and nine people died.

The Automatic Train Stop technology that can be used in the interim triggers an alarm in the locomotive cab if a signal to stop is not heeded. If the alarm is ignored, the system then applies emergency brakes to stop the train.

Key elements of the Rail Safety Improvement Act:

  • Collision avoidance: Mandates installation of positive train control on major railroads and passenger and commuter railroads by December 31, 2015, and includes a grant program for deployment of various positive train control technologies. Earlier this month, executives with the Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Union Pacific freight railroads pledged to Senator Feinstein that they would deploy the systems in Southern California by 2012.
  • Increased penalties: Increases maximum penalty for grossly negligent violations, or a pattern of repeated violations, to $100,000, up from $20,000.
  • Anti-fatigue measures: Prohibits train and signal crews from working in excess of 12 hours a day and 276 hours a month; requires railroads to develop fatigue-management plans through a mandatory risk-reduction program.
  • Training: Establishes minimum training standards for railroad workers; requires certification of conductors.
  • Locomotive cab safety: Permits the Federal Railroad Administration to ban cell phone use, and other distractions, in locomotive cabs.
  • Grade-crossings: Establishes a grant program to provide emergency grade crossing safety improvements allocations where there has been a grade crossing collision involving a school bus or multiple injuries or fatalities.
  • Assistance to accident victims: Directs the National Transportation Safety Board to establish a program to assist victims and their families involved in a passenger rail accident, to be modeled after a similar aviation-disaster program.