Federal Safety Officials First Called for Positive Train Control in 1969

NTSB estimated 145 railway accidents could have been prevented and more than 300 lives saved had the technology been implemented 48 years earlier.

Washington State Patrol

Nearly 50 years after the National Transportation Safety Board urged U.S. railroads to adopt Positive Train Control, the technology is only in partial use, and was not installed on the stretch of track where an Amtrak train derailed Monday, killing three people.

Positive Train Control, or PTC, is a system that automatically reduces the speed of trains going too fast, prevents trains from colliding and halts trains from continuing on out-of-line tracks. 

The NTSB said late Monday that the passenger train was moving at 80 miles per hour in a 30-mph zone when it derailed on a bridge, its cars spilling off the tracks onto the interstate below in DuPont, Washington.

While the federal agency said it's too early to say if speed was a factor in the crash, which also injured 100 people, 10 seriously, Amtrak Co-Chief Executive, Richard Anderson, acknowledged that Positive Train Control, or PTC, was not in use.

The morning derailment came just over a month after NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt ripped into Amtrak, saying the railway's "safety culture is failing and is primed to fail again."

The NTSB in 2015 estimated 145 railway accidents could have been prevented and more than 300 lives saved had the technology been implemented 48 years earlier.

Germany, Britain, and France have all had some type of automatic train control since the 1930s, and Japan's bullet trains have been running since 1964 without any passenger deaths.

Congress mandated PTC be implemented nationwide by the end of 2015, but then postponed the deadline until the end of 2018.

"PTC systems are in operation on 45 percent of the required route miles of track owned by freight railroads and 24 percent of the route miles of track owned by passenger railroads," the Federal Railroad Administration said in a statement on Monday.

As of December, eight of 37 railroads required to implement PTC system on their own tracks had been certified, the FRA said. A total of 41 railroads must comply with next year's deadline, the agency noted. 

Twelve railroads have finished installing hardware to implement PTC systems, according to the agency, while another 12 report installing less than half the hardware required as of the end of September.