Transportation officials and railroad executives tout huge growth in the use of rail transportation in the U.S. According to the Washington-based chairman of Veolia Transportation, a major multinational player in the transportation field, highways and aviation are "capacity constrained [and] capital starved, [with] not much in the way of optimism about either of them," Conversely, he sees capacity as "pretty much unlimited for rail."

Government officials such as deputy director of the Chicago Department of Transportation Luann Hamilton concur, estimating a 40 percent increase in train traffic by 2040 for Chicago. Other urban areas, such as Minneapolis and Denver, have also enjoyed major growth in the use of commuter options such as light-rail systems.

Keeping passenger rail travel safe

While accidents remain rare, crashes in Los Angeles and Spain have created strong demand for improved safety measures. One cause of such disasters is collisions between trains, such as the one that occurred in the L.A. Metrolink crash which resulted in 25 deaths and over 100 injuries. At issue in many collisions is a lack of knowledge of trains' positioning on the route.

In response to the L.A. train disaster, Congress adopted the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, which included mandatory implementation of the billion-dollar positive train control (PTC) technology. PTC functions by creating a communications network that connects conductors, dispatchers, and signals along the tracks. These points exchange information about track conditions, speed and switches so that the system knows trains' exact locations and speeds at all times. Ultimately, PTC is capable of assuming control of trains and hitting the brakes to avoid collisions.


PTC opponents


In theory, PTC should solve most collision-related issues. It is not, however, without its critics, many of whom question the system's efficacy in real life scenarios. Not least of all, experts remind the public that PTC will only be effective in crashes caused by human error, which make up only 35 percent of all accidents. Since poor tracks, faulty equipment and other issues are at fault in the majority of accidents, some doubt that PTC will be worth its huge price tag.

Only time will tell whether PTC cuts down on commuter injuries and deaths. When accidents affect passengers, their first line of defense is advice from a proficient legal professional adept in litigating train accident cases.