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NC officials say 'positive train control' will be installed before deadline

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) - State officials say they'll install potentially life-saving technology on trains ahead of a federally mandated deadline, but it may not be fully functional until 2020.

"We take safety very seriously. It's our number one priority," said Allan Paul, deputy director of the North Carolina Department of Transportation rail division. "It should add a large measure of safety to the operation of both freight and passenger trains in North Carolina."

Positive train control is a technology being installed across the country, aimed at reducing collisions and automatically slowing down trains when they go too fast.

This weekend's crash in South Carolina occurred when an Amtrak train was diverted to the wrong track and collided with a parked CSX train, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. The crash killed two Amtrak employees and injured 116 people.

"An operational PTC system is designed to prevent this type of accident," said NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt III.

Congress mandated in 2008 that passenger railroads and Class I freight railroads install PTC technology by the end of 2015. That was extended to the end of 2018 with additional extensions possible up to the end of 2020, according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR).

Paul said North Carolina is installing so-called "black boxes" or communication systems on state-owned locomotives, while railroads (CSX and Norfolk Southern) are responsible for wayside signals along the tracks themselves and PTC technology at dispatch centers.

"All three of those components have to be in place before positive train control can go live and actually work," he said.

PTC utilizes GPS technology, detects the direction and speed of trains, can warn train operators of problems and automatically take action to prevent an incident, according to the AAR.

This technology was not implemented yet in the area where Sunday's crash occurred in South Carolina. Two months ago, a train derailed in Washington where PTC had been installed but was not yet operational.

As of the end of September, Amtrak had installed PTC on 71 percent of its locomotives and 67 percent of its tracks, according to data from the Federal Railroad Administration.

CSX has installed the technology on all of its locomotives and 39 percent of its tracks. Meanwhile, Norfolk Southern has installed PTC on 71 percent of its locomotives and half of its tracks.

When the installation is complete, the AAR estimates freight and passenger railroads will have spent more than $14 billion to develop and install the technology.

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