Darien 50th Anniversary Remarks
Thank you, Senator Blumenthal, and thank you for your strong leadership on positive train control (PTC) and many other safety issues.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to visit with Metro-North, Long Island Rail Road, and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to see first-hand their progress toward PTC implementation. Tomorrow I’ll visit New Jersey Transit as I make my way around the country over the next 16 months to deliver one message to each of the 41 railroads required to implement PTC: finish the job!
Exactly 50 years ago today, on August 20, 1969, two Penn Central commuter trains collided in Darien, Connecticut. Four people died and 43 others were injured. In response, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued its first recommendation related to PTC.
In the past half century, the NTSB has investigated more than 150 PTC preventable accidents that took the lives of more than 300 people and injured about 6,700 others, which is why PTC was on the NTSB’s first Most Wanted List in 1990, and why it remains on the Most Wanted List today.
My goal is for the NTSB to never have to investigate another accident that could have been prevented had PTC been fully implemented.
In 2008, when it became clear that, even after a series of deadly crashes, the railroads and federal regulators weren’t going to voluntarily implement PTC, Congress took action and made PTC implementation mandatory.
Progress has been slow over the last 11 years and the railroads have experienced delays, but progress is being made and we’re thankful for that. In fact, some railroads are almost fully implemented; however, others lag far behind and need to kick it up a notch.
For example, some railroads are still installing equipment and conducting field testing when they should be well into revenue service demonstration on all their lines. At this point, the railroads should be focused on interoperability and getting their safety plans to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) for final certification and approval.
That’s not to suggest there haven’t been challenges, but we’re 16 months out from the final deadline. The railroads and state agencies need to finish the job. There should be no more extensions, no more excuses, and no more delays.
I’ve said this many times and I will say it again…From the day that President Kennedy urged Congress and America to undertake an ambitious challenge of going to the moon, to the day that Neil Armstrong took that historic first step -- it had been eight short years. Think about that – eight years.
From the day that Congress mandated PTC to the present, it’s been 11 years.
From the collision in Darien to today, it’s now been half a century.
It’s been far too long, and it’s time for the railroads to finish the job.
It goes without saying that PTC implementation is far from the only challenge that railroads face. The NTSB continues to fight for railroad safety on a number of fronts.
But today is about remembering Darien, and there is no better way to put that memory into action than to fully implement PTC.