Schiff, Waxman, Gallegly Introduce Legislation to Require Collision Avoidance Systems on All Major U.S. Rail Lines

Official Seal of the US House of Representatives

Friday, September 19, 2008 Contact: Sean Oblack (202) 225-4176

Schiff, Waxman, Gallegly Introduce Legislation to Require Collision Avoidance Systems on All Major U.S. Rail Lines

Washington, DC – Coming on the heels of last Friday’s train collision, the most deadly in Metrolink’s history, Representatives Adam Schiff, Henry A. Waxman and Elton Gallegly introduced legislation late yesterday that would require all major U.S. railroads to install “positive train control” systems designed to help avoid collisions.  The Rail Collision Prevention Act is a companion measure to a bill introduced by Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer earlier this week. 

“First and foremost, my thoughts and prayers are with those affected by this tragic event. Last Friday’s accident may have been avoided had the proper technology been in place,” said Schiff.  “I have been fighting in Congress for years to ensure better railroad safety measures are adopted, and it saddens me that it takes such a terrible accident to compel needed reforms. This is a common sense measure that will protect lives, and I hope we can expedite its passage in the waning days of this session.”

“This accident was an enormous tragedy.  My thoughts and prayers go out to the families and loved ones of those who have been lost or injured,” Rep. Waxman added.  “Rail passengers in California and across the United States need to have the utmost confidence that all steps are being taken to ensure their safety.”

“I offer my condolences to the families of those who lost their lives in this tragedy and my hopes for a fast recovery to those who are injured,” Gallegly said. “As the investigation continues, there probably will be other measures Congress will take to make rail travel safer. This bill is a good and important first step. I assure the families we will do everything we can to determine the cause and to ensure that something like this never happens again.”

In January 2005, a Metrolink train in Glendale in Rep. Schiff’s district collided with an automobile that was abandoned on the tracks.  That collision killed 11 people and was the deadliest Metrolink crash in its history, until the tragic collision last week.  Rep. Waxman’s district includes Chatsworth, the site of the collision that took 25 lives and injured 135 people, 40 of them critically. Twenty-one of those who died in Friday’s accident had lived in Rep. Gallegly’s district. Rail safety experts say a positive train control system could have prevented Friday’s collision of a Metrolink commuter train with a Union Pacific freight train.

The Rail Collision Prevention Act would:

  • Require commuter railroads and major freight railroads to develop plans for implementing positive train control systems within one year of the legislation’s enactment.
  • Set a deadline of December 31, 2012 for these systems to be in place on rail lines designated by the Department of Transportation as high-risk, involving use by major freight and passenger railroads;
  • Set a deadline of December 31, 2014 for installation of these systems on all other passenger rail lines and rail lines used to transport hazardous materials; and
  • Authorize the Secretary of Transportation to assess fines up to $100,000 on rail carriers that fail to comply.
  • Also require that these plans must be submitted to the Secretary of Transportation for approval within one year of the legislation’s enactment.

The House and Senate passed similar legislation (H.R. 2095) earlier this year, but it did not contain strict enough penalties or prompt implementation dates. A final vote on that previous approved bill is likely in the House next week, and provisions from the bill introduced today may be added to H.R. 2095 before it is sent to the President to be signed into law.  Last Friday’s crash made it clear that we must take these steps immediately, and Reps. Schiff, Waxman and Gallegly decided to join Senators Feinstein and Boxer in introducing this bill.


The National Transportation Safety Board has called for installation of positive train control systems to avert collisions, particularly on high-risk track shared by freight and passenger trains.

Here is how positive train control systems work:

  • Digital communications are combined with Global Positioning System (GPS) technology to monitor train locations and speeds;
  • These systems can detect excessive speed; improperly aligned switches, whether trains are on the wrong track, unauthorized train movements, and whether trains have missed signals to slow or stop.
  • If engineers do not comply with signals, the system automatically brings the trains to a stop.

Positive train control systems have been put to use only in limited areas, including the Northeast and between Chicago and Detroit. California has no positive control systems although Southern California has the most track shared by freight and passenger trains in the United States.