Of all the facts about last week's deadly train derailment in the Bronx, one of the most jarring, especially for people unfamiliar with New York's Metro-North Railroad, was the abrupt slowdown the driver was supposed to make. Trains zooming along a long straightaway with a speed limit of 70 mph, and often traveling faster than that in reality, need to slow to 30 to safely navigate the curve at Spuyten Duyvil on their way into New York City. The derailed train was traveling 82 miles per hour upon entering the curve, and showed the deadly consequences of an operator losing focus for even a short period of time, as was reportedly the case with driver William Rockefeller.
In short, Spuyten Duyvil looks like the perfect place for automation. And now, after the wreck that killed four people and injured dozens, : The Metropolitan Transit Authority said over the weekend that it would install a system to automatically brake trains coming into the curve.
Many onlookers wondered after the derailment why such a system wasn't already in place, as it seemingly could have prevented this accident (though as of last week, the National Transportation Safety Board said that conclusion was not certain). As PopMech previously reported, lawmakers have been talking for years about mandating positive train control, which would allow operators to gain control of a train from afar and potentially stop it if the train's conductor were incapacitated or not doing was he or she was supposed to. But the government's deadline for railroads to adopt this tech is 2015. And Metro-North was , saying it was simply too expensive to retrofit the system as the government demanded.
Still, more post-accident changes are coming. The MTA, under orders from the federal government, will reduce speed limits at more locations throughout the system and get rid of any sudden drops of more than 20 mph. And within the next year, MTA promises, every cab will have an alerter system to sound an alarm if the operator is supposed to brake but does not. Currently, two-thirds of Metro-North trains have such an alerter, but in the train that derailed it was not in the front cab where the engineer stood.