Positive Train Control is technology that takes the control of a train – a ver large thing that is very hard to stop – out of the hands of train engineers and enforces safety through automatic GPS-run control systems. The sharp turn near Philadelphia station where engineer Brandon Bostian apparently applied emergency brake procedures when he realized he was going at a reported speed of 106 miles per hour rather than the 50 mph limit, did not have PTC technology, needless to say. Eight people riding that train to visit friends or family or on business or some other journey lost their lives and hundreds of others were injured or shaken up. Calls to defund and shut down Amtrack are already being made. But there is a problem beyond the subsidies spent over the past 4 or nearly 5 decades: the behavior of those charged – directly or indirectly – with the safety and security of the passengers aboard the train or any passengers in vehicles near a railroad line for that matter.

Was Bostian text messaging? Was he high on something? Or was he just in that phased-out zombie zone that apparently can sometimes affect truck drivers and train engineers with a long work schedule? Or was he just plain distracted? For no reason at all? One wonders what sort of safety training – and continual training – railway engineers receive? Certainly they must receive this type of training. But PTC technology is an admission that technology is needed to ensure that train engineers comply with safety standards. Like speed limits for example. So as the investigators piece together what happened and calls for Amtrack to be shut down increase, Congress will have to decide whether to ensure that the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 continues to install PTC technology through the NE corridor and indeed most of the US Rail Network by December 15 of this year, as the law stipulates. Or whether passenger railways are a subsidized service for the relatively wealthy and not worth preserving. Within any debate over Amtrack’s future, perhaps they could also dedicate a little time and thought to ensuring, as best as reasonably possible, that engineers operate their trains in a safe and responsible manner.