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Dismal report card on railroads' safety compliance efforts

So-called "positive train control" is an unquestionably attractive concept on paper, with its developers being duly enthused over its safety-enhancing capabilities.

Reportedly, those are impressive, indeed. Among other things, PTC can automatically wrest the controls of a commuter passenger train from an operator who is flagging in attention or becomes incapacitated. It can sense speed thresholds and adjust train movements accordingly.

In short, it is a flat-out impressive tool. State and national regulators are understandably excited about its implementation on the 29 commuter railroads operating across the country.

There's just this one problem: The widespread enthusiasm for PTC in New York and other states is turning to massive frustration owing to industry principals' inability to both figuratively and literally stay on track with looming deadlines imposed for implementing the revolutionary safety feature.

Congress passed legislation requiring PTC installation following a horrific commuter train accident in California in 2008. Lawmakers originally gave the industry a December 31, 2015, due date for completion nationally, but subsequently extended that to the end of this year.

Even with that extra time, it looks like a clear majority of national railroads won't be able to meet the deadline.

That justifiably concerns policy makers, safety advocates and passengers.

It also has a number of prominent voices calling for punitive measures against railroad heads. One U.S. senator says that notably tough sanctions need to be written into law immediately that stress to industry chiefs that there "will be no tolerance for delay."

Time is moving quickly in 2018 for the stated two-thirds of the country's commuter railroads that are behind schedule on PTC implementation. Obviously, they are going to have to materially up their game on compliance.

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