Congress delayed key safeguard that may have prevented Washington train derailment

WASHINGTON ― Congress delayed the implementation of an advanced safeguard that could help prevent railroad accidents like the one that occurred in Washington state Monday.

At least six people were killed and dozens more were injured after an Amtrak passenger train heading from Seattle to Portland, Oregon, plunged off an interstate highway overpass, law enforcement officials said.

Amtrak officials said a new safety mechanism called “positive train control” was not activated at the time of the derailment. The train was traveling on an inaugural run of a high-speed service route.

Positive train control is a system meant to automatically stop trains before certain accidents happen, like train-to-train collisions and derailments caused by excessive speed. After a 2008 crash in California, a new law required trains across the country to install the technology by the end of 2015, the Hill reported.

But as the deadline approached, Congress extended it until the end of 2018, after receiving complaints from freight and commuter railroad companies about the difficulty of converting to the new system. The extension was part of a five-year highway bill compromise between the House and Senate that President Barack Obama signed into law.

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Amtrak train derails in Washington state
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Amtrak train derails in Washington state
DUPONT, WASHINGTON - DECEMBER 18: Emegency crews work at the scene of a Amtrak train derailment on December 18, 2017 in DuPont, Washington. At least six people were killed when a passenger train car plunged from the bridge. The derailment also closed southbound I-5. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)
An Amtrak passenger train is seen derailed on a bridge over interstate highway (I-5) in this Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) image moved on social media in DuPont, Washington, U.S., December 18, 2017. Courtesy WSDOT/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.
The scene where an Amtrak passenger train derailed on a bridge over interstate highway I-5 in DuPont, Washington, U.S. December 18, 2017. REUTERS/Steve Dipaola
The scene where an Amtrak passenger train derailed on a bridge over interstate highway I-5 in DuPont, Washington, U.S. December 18, 2017. REUTERS/Steve Dipaola
Washington State Trooper Brooke Bova briefs the media at the scene where an Amtrak passenger train derailed on a bridge over interstate highway I-5 in DuPont, Washington, U.S. December 18, 2017. REUTERS/Steve Dipaola
The scene where an Amtrak passenger train derailed on a bridge over interstate highway I-5 in DuPont, Washington, U.S. December 18, 2017. REUTERS/Steve Dipaola
Parts of an Amtrak passenger train at the scene of derailment on interstate highway (I-5) is seen in this Pierce County Sheriff's Department image moved on social media in DuPont, Washington, U.S., December 18, 2017. Courtesy Pierce County Sheriff's Department/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.
Parts of an Amtrak passenger train at the scene of derailment on interstate highway (I-5) is seen in this Pierce County Sheriff's Department image moved on social media in DuPont, Washington, U.S., December 18, 2017. Courtesy Pierce County Sheriff's Department/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.
An Amtrak passenger train derailment over interstate highway (I-5) is seen in this Washington State Patrol image moved on social media in DuPont, Washington, U.S., December 18, 2017. Courtesy Brooke Bova/Washington State Patrol/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.
First responders are seen at the scene of an Amtrak passenger train derailment on interstate highway (I-5) in this Washington State Patrol image moved on social media in DuPont, Washington, U.S., December 18, 2017. Courtesy Brooke Bova/Washington State Patrol/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.
An Amtrak passenger train derailment over interstate highway (I-5) is seen in this Washington State Patrol image moved on social media in DuPont, Washington, U.S., December 18, 2017. Courtesy Brooke Bova/Washington State Patrol/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.
Parts of an Amtrak passenger train at the scene of derailment on interstate highway (I-5) is seen in this Pierce County Sheriff's Department image moved on social media in DuPont, Washington, U.S., December 18, 2017. Courtesy Pierce County Sheriff's Department/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.
Parts of an Amtrak passenger train at the scene of derailment on interstate highway (I-5) is seen in this Pierce County Sheriff's Department image moved on social media in DuPont, Washington, U.S., December 18, 2017. Courtesy Pierce County Sheriff's Department/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.
An Amtrak passenger train is seen derailed on a bridge over the interstate highway (I-5) in this Pierce County Sheriff's Department image moved on social media in DuPont, Washington, U.S., December 18, 2017. Courtesy Pierce County Sheriff's Department/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.
First responders are seen at the scene of an Amtrak passenger train which derailed and is hanging from a bridge over the interstate highway (I-5) in DuPont, Washington, U.S., December 18, 2017. REUTERS/Nick Adams
First responders are seen at the scene of an Amtrak passenger train which derailed and is hanging from a bridge over the interstate highway (I-5) in DuPont, Washington, U.S., December 18, 2017. REUTERS/Tom James
First responders and investigators are seen near the scene of an Amtrak passenger train which derailed on a bridge over the interstate highway (I-5) in DuPont, Washington, U.S., December 18, 2017. REUTERS/Nick Adams
First responders are at the scene of an Amtrak passenger train which derailed and is hanging from a bridge over the interstate highway (I-5) in DuPont, Washington, U.S., December 18, 2017. REUTERS/Nick Adams
DUPONT, WASHINGTON - DECEMBER 18: Law enforcement work at the scene of a Amtrak train derailment on December 18, 2017 in DuPont, Washington. At least six people were killed when a passenger train car plunged from the bridge. The derailment also closed southbound I-5. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)
Photos from scene of amtrak passenger train derailment https://t.co/gd09MzLCC6
NEW: NBC's @anblanx reports that there are multiple deaths and injuries following an Amtrak train derailment in Tac… https://t.co/wrgXvFiiOM
WSP diverting traffic at DuPont. WSP aiding withbroad closure & getting assistance to scene. https://t.co/fRw4uGNIVv
NEW: @CBSNews is hearing official word that there are casualties with potential fatalities in the @Amtrak train der… https://t.co/7s4RHGYyiN
Amtrak derailment in Washington State being treated as a mass-casualty scene. https://t.co/VabCii9zhn
Developing: Amtrak train derails near Seattle onto the I-5 freeway https://t.co/XfF79Hxdfj https://t.co/DCjgYtjPBp
First responders and investigators are seen near the scene of an Amtrak passenger train which derailed on a bridge over the interstate highway (I-5) in DuPont, Washington, U.S., December 18, 2017. REUTERS/Nick Adams
First responders are seen at the scene of an Amtrak passenger train which derailed and is hanging from a bridge over the interstate highway (I-5) in DuPont, Washington, U.S., December 18, 2017. REUTERS/Tom James
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Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who warned about delaying positive train control at the time, tweeted Monday that the technology “must be implemented immediately.”

“We don’t know that it could have saved lives,” Rep. Denny Heck (D-Wash.), who represents the district where the Monday derailment occurred, told CNN of the technology after the crash. “But it was a disappointment that we’re not further along in implementation and installing PTC in trains throughout America.”

“We can’t jump to conclusions,” Heck further warned.

The National Transportation Safety Board is conducting an investigation into the accident, but it may take months before it is completed.

The absence of positive train control was a contributing factor to a deadly passenger train derailment in Philadelphia in 2015, according to the safety board. In that incident, an Amtrak engineer became distracted and accelerated to more than twice the speed limit as he entered a curve.

President Donald Trump initially addressed the deadly derailment on Twitter by making the case for an overhaul of the nation’s crumbling infrastructure system via a plan he is expected to soon unveil. The incident in Washington, however, occurred on a brand new service line.

  • This article originally appeared on HuffPost.
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