That deadline came and went

There’s a pattern.

On a summer afternoon in Southern California nine years ago, a commuter train blew through a stop signal and ran head-on into an oncoming freight train, killing 25 people.

After investigators determined that the crash could have been prevented by automatic-braking technology, Congress ordered all passenger railroads to install new systems by 2016. Since then, Congress has extended that deadline and trains have kept speeding into preventable disasters, including the Amtrak derailment that killed three people in Western Washington on Monday.

In Amtrak’s case, this is a recurring nightmare. The crash this week was eerily reminiscent of one just two years ago in Philadelphia, where an Amtrak train barreled into a sweeping curve at 106 miles an hour before jumping the tracks and rolling over. Eight people died.

That crash, too, could have been prevented by the technology, known as positive train control. But five months after it happened, Congress gave railroads at least three more years to install it.

Well, you have to look at it from their point of view. Installing it will take money and effort. Not installing it is more convenient and cheaper. Naturally Congress is going to say yes sure you can have more time, there’s no hurry.

“Here we are, almost 10 years later, and that deadline came and went,” said Kitty Higgins, a former member of the National Transportation Safety Board. “The railroads have been slow-walking it and it still is not implemented. It’s absolutely outrageous.”

But it’s cheaper and less trouble to keep putting it off. That’s the important thing.

Railroads have cited the cost and complexity of adding the technology, which relies on satellites and radio signals to prevent trains from running out of control if an engineer has lost focus or fallen asleep while driving. Industry estimates of the total cost of installation exceed $10 billion.

See? Money and effort! Those don’t grow on trees you know.

Legislators settled for a new deadline of Dec. 31, 2018, with an additional, two-year extension possible on a case-by-case basis. President Barack Obama signed the extension into law in October 2015.

The two Republican lawmakers behind the deadline extension, Representative Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania and Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, were the top two recipients of political campaign contributions from the railroad industry in 2016, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Of course they were.

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