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I-Team Investigates Amtrak Tragedy: How A Matter Of Months Could've Meant Difference Between Life And Death

By Charlotte Huffman

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Thursday at the scene of the Amtrak tragedy, the company's CEO made a commitment to make travel on the Northeast Corridor safer for millions of riders.

Eyewitness News Investigative Reporter, Charlotte Huffman first broke the story about how the derailment could have been prevented on Wednesday afternoon.

Tonight she's taking a closer look at how a matter of months would've likely been the difference between life and death on Amtrak this week.

"Positive Train Control could've stopped this whole thing from happening," former NTSB Chairman, Mark Rosenker told Huffman Wednesday afternoon.

Positive Train Control or PTC as it is often called uses GPS technology and ground sensors to determine whether to override the actions of an engineer and take control of a train before disaster strikes.

The implementation of PTC has been seven years in the making.

In 2008, Congress gave carriers a deadline of the end of 2015 to install PTC.

The mandate was prompted by a Metrolink train collision the same year in Los Angeles, California.

The crash, which claimed the lives of 25 people, became Metrolink's deadliest and NTSB investigators determined the Metrolink engineer was to blame because he was texting and ran a red signal and entered the wrong track.

PTC could have stopped the Metrolink train before impact.

Similarly, PTC controls excessive speed and would have stopped Train 188 from traveling 106 mph in a 50 mph zone.

"(PTC) knows where the train is, what the authorized speed level is and if in fact the engineer goes beyond that and the engineer doesn't do anything about it then the train automatically comes to a stop," explained Rosenker.

"The Department of Transportation has long said that Positive Train Control is a game changer for safety," Federal Railroad Administration spokesman, Kevin F. Thompson said in a statement released Thursday.

Despite pressure from safety regulators and a looming deadline from Congress to install PTC, Amtrak had not finished the work on the new system along the section of track that turned deadly Tuesday.

On Thursday, Amtrak's CEO Joe Boardman, committed to meeting the federal year-end deadline.

"We had to change a lot of things on the corridor to make it work and we're very close to being ready to cut it in. We need some testing done ... but we will complete this by the end of the year," said Boardman.

PTC is already up and running along some parts of the Northeast Corridor – from New Brunswick to Trenton, NJ on the New York Line and from Perryville, Maryland to Wilmington, Delaware on the Mid-Atlantic line.

As for regional lines, SEPTA officials tell the I-Team that SEPTA is spending more than $300 million to install PTC on its commuter rail network and expects to meet the end of 2015 deadline.

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