By Alex DeMetrick

BALTIMORE (WJZ)–Rail travel is based on some pretty old technology. Making it safer is going to take some high-tech help.

Alex DeMetrick reports Maryland’s MARC trains have received millions of dollars to make those safety improvements.

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When a MARC commuter train collided with an Amtrak passenger train in Silver Spring in 1996, 11 people were killed.

Nobody wanted it then. Nobody wants it now.

“We don’t want accidents just what like happened in the past. If the engineer is not paying attention, something’s wrong, who knows what, this will assist them in stopping the train,” said John Hovatter, MARC director.

That assistance starts high up with global positioning satellites, which will track trains on the ground.

That information will go to dispatch centers, which will combine it with other data like signals and track switching, as well as other train traffic. All of which will be sent to computers riding with engineers. It’s called positive train control.

“It will actually stop a train. A positive train control. That’s what it is,” Hovatter said.

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And Maryland is spending $13 million to install it in MARC’s commuter rail service.

That will cover the 32 engines that haul MARC trains north and the cab cars that pull the line south, as well as start-up maintenance costs.

Federal regulations will require positive train control of all rail lines.

According to the NTSB, 15 accidents since 2005 could have been prevented, saving the lives of 50 people, and the injuries to 942 others.

There are concerns glitches called false positives could stop trains unnecessarily.

“That’s a positive, though. We always want to stay the safe course, and the safe course is stopping the train. Even if it’s a false positive, we want to stop the train to make sure everything’s alright on the tracks ahead of it,” Hovatter said.

Especially given the cargo inside.

Even though federal rules say positive train control must be in place by the end of 2015, the sheer scope of installing it nationwide will likely push that deadline back.

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