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FRA Issues Order on Controlling Train Speeds for Northeast Corridor

In the aftermath of the May 12 Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia, FRA issued an Emergency Order on May 21 that will assist in controlling passenger train speeds at certain locations on the Northeast Corridor (NEC) and announced its intention to take additional actions to address potential speed issues on all other passenger corridors.

“The Northeast Corridor is the busiest rail corridor in the country and the steps we have ordered Amtrak to take will immediately improve safety on this busy corridor,” said FRA Acting Administrator Sarah Feinberg. “But in the days and weeks to come, we will also do more; while FRA will continue to push Amtrak and other commuter lines to achieve full implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC), we will also work with them in the short term to immediately address potential over-speed issues.”

The order formalizes instructions FRA previously gave Amtrak regarding safety improvements along the NEC. These include Automatic Train Control code changes and modifications, adopting other safety procedures at several curve locations with significant speed reductions and submitting an action plan to FRA outlining additional steps.

FRA also said it will take additional steps into ensure that other corridors are addressing potential over-speed issues.
Another factor in the implementation of PTC by Amtrak and commuter railroads is the availability of radio spectrum. PTC operation requires a larger amount of bandwidth than many agencies are able to acquire, a situation that both the agencies and the Federal Communications Commission have said is caused by inaction in Congress. Private rail operators may purchase limited bandwidth in urban areas at higher prices than public agencies could easily afford.

News reports state that Amtrak acquired the last band of spectrum it needed for the NEC in April and had not yet activated PTC at the time of the derailment.
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