WASHINGTON (WJZ) — There are concerns about safety on the rails after several deadly train derailments, including one outside Philadelphia with several Marylanders on board. Congress delays a mandate for a long sought after safety technology.

Derek Valcourt with more on the delay to the technology that could save lives.

Most railroads were not going to meet the Dec. 31, 2015 deadline. They say they were faced with a choice–either break the law or shut down service.

When Amtrak Train 188 derailed just outside of Philadelphia this summer, killing eight people, federal investigators said an important safety technology called positive train control, or PTC, could have prevented the crash.

PTC uses GPS technology to communicate with and slow a train down or stop it in an emergency.

“It’s designed to eliminate the chance for trains colliding and for going off the rails,” said Daniel Miller, attorney.

Safety officials say since 1969, PTC could have prevented 145 train accidents, saving nearly 300 lives and avoiding thousands of injuries–part of why seven years ago, Congress ordered all railroads to install the technology by the end of 2015.

But earlier this year, the Federal Railroad Administration warned that most railroads would not meet the deadline.

“It is important. We’re halfway there,” said Ed Hamberger, Association of American Railroads.

Ed Hamberger is president of the association that represents railroad companies, which threatened to shut down or delay freight rail service if the deadlines were not extended. They say the scope and complexity of the project required more time.

“It’s a major new technology. We’ve had to design it. Over 70 railroads will have to use this technology, and those railroads are going to have to be able to talk to each other,” said Hamberger.

So far, necessary equipment has been installed on just 12,000 miles, or 14 percent, of the tracks. Thirty-one percent of locomotives have been upgraded, 69 percent of antennas and other stationary equipment is up.

That work has already cost $6 billion, with railroads expecting to pay another $4 billion by 2018.

Railroads that are not able to meet the 2018 deadline will be able to apply for a waiver, granting them an extra two years to get the work done.

The deadline extension was tied to a critical highway funding bill, so it passed both chambers of Congress and is expected to be signed into law by the president.


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