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Well, that didn’ t take long.  The New York Times is reporting that the Amtrak train that derailed on Tuesday night was traveling at least 100 miles an hour through a sharp curve in an urban area.  According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), 100 miles an hour is at least twice the speed limit on that stretch of track.  Moreover, the maximum safe speed on the straight sections of track in that area is only 70 mph.  The NTSB retrieved and analyzed the train’s data recorders (“black box”).  From the black box, the NTSB was able to download the train’s speed, images from the video camera located on the train’s engine, and a log of when the train’s operator used the brake, throttle and horn.

Another update is that over 200 people were taken to local hospitals.  The reason for the significantly lower numbers reported earlier is likely due to the fact that at the time of the Amtrak train crash, not all of the passenger tickets had been collected by the conductors.  It took some time to account for all of the passengers.

Amtrak locomotives are equipped with multiple systems, including warning lights and sound alarms, to alert train operators that they are going too fast.  Railroads are under a congressional mandate to install a positive train control safety system on passenger routes and major freight lines by the end of 2015, but the railroads are already asking for an extension.  The positive train control system can automatically reduce the speed of a train that is going too fast.  So can a human operator who heeds properly functioning warning lights and sound alarms.


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