COMMENTS: Negative Train Control

The head on collision of a Metrolink commuter train with a freight train during Los Angeles' Friday rush hour came too late for last week's newscasts. So this was the first weekday reporting on the crash that killed at least 25 on the networks' evening news. All three newscasts had reporters on the scene: NBC's transportation expert Tom Costello, CBS' Los Angeles based Ben Tracy and ABC's Terry McCarthy (embargoed link), whose regular beat happens to be Baghdad. Both Costello and McCarthy chose the National Transportation Safety Board angle. For 30 years, the NTSB has urged the railroad industry to install a safety system known as Positive Train Control. It remotely monitors railroad tracks for impending crashes and automatically applies brakes, overriding the engineer. The system operates along Amtrak's northeast corridor but not in southern California, where passenger trains routinely share tracks with freight.

CBS' Tracy mentioned the NTSB system too, but his angle was the claim by a couple of teenage trainspotters that the Metrolink engineer had been distracted just before the crash, exchanging text messages with them as he overlooked a red signal.


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