Automatic Train Control, A Safety System That Could Have Lessened The Impact of The Recent Amtrak Derailment, Wasn't Turned On Along Dangerous Philadelphia Curve – Schumer Urges FRA To Ensure System Is Installed And Implemented On Other Rail Lines In Upstate NY 

Schumer Says FRA Must Work with Railroads to Ensure Automatic Train Control is Operational on Dangerous Curves Throughout New York and Remains In Place Until More Robust Positive Train Control is Installed

Schumer: FRA Needs To Take Lessons from Amtrak Derailment and Apply Them Throughout Upstate NY


U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today urged that a safety system called Automatic Train Control (ATC) – which could have lessened the impacts of the recent Amtrak derailment if the safety system were operational – be implemented along dangerous curves and routes for trains traveling throughout Upstate New York. Following last week’s derailment, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) instructed Amtrak to turn ATC on at the curve in Philadelphia that caused the derailment. Schumer said that that FRA should also make sure the safety system is turned on and installed along rail lines that run throughout areas of Upstate New York, including the Hudson Valley, Albany, Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo.

Schumer explained that a more robust safety system called Positive Train Control (PTC) is still as many as five years away from being operational in Upstate New York. Therefore, Schumer urged FRA to work with railroads, including Amtrak and the freight lines, in the interim to ensure a less robust system called Automatic Train Control (ATC) is installed and operational where needed on all passenger rail lines. ATC, while not as effective as PTC, could still have helped slow down and lessen the impacts of the speeding Amtrak train that derailed last week, as well as the Metro-North train that derailed at Spuyten-Duyvil in 2013. Following both of those derailments FRA instructed Amtrak and Metro-North to conduct a review to ensure ATC was installed and turned on along dangerous curves on Amtrak’s Washington, DC - Boston line (Northeast Corridor) and the Metro-North lines – but no such review has happened to other rail lines throughout Upstate New York, including along the Empire Service route.

Schumer highlighted that over 1.7 million passengers travel along these lines in New York every year and that the lessons learned from the Philadelphia derailment and the Spuyten-Duyvil derailment need to be applied to the Empire Service to protect passengers and prevent future tragedies. 

“When it comes to the safety of passengers and Upstate communities, we can never be too careful. While the PTC system is set to be completed on lines like the Northeast Corridor by the end of the year, in Upstate New York it’s a quite different story, where PTC will not be ready for years. After the tragic derailment in Philadelphia, the FRA needs to move swiftly to ensure that ATC, an interim safety measure, is fully implemented and turned on in Upstate New York,” said Senator Schumer. “It’s imperative that we make sure additional safety systems like ATC are installed  to mitigate the chances of another derailment. While ATC is a less robust system than PTC, it is far better than the lack of any speed controls – like the conditions that existed on the curve in Philadelphia,” said Schumer. “So I am urging the FRA to work with Amtrak and the freight railroads to determine where else outside of the Northeast Corridor – in places like the Hudson Valley, Albany, Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo – we can install ATC and ensure it is functioning properly.”

Schumer said that Positive Train Control (PTC) is a sophisticated electronic system that will help prevent future tragedies like the Amtrak crash in Philadelphia last week and the 2013 Metro-North Spuyten-Duyvil derailment. Schumer said ensuring PTC is on all tracks in the United States, including the NEC line, would be a major step forward in protecting riders from dangerous derailments. The federally mandated deadline for installing PTC is the end of this year, however railroads have continued to claim that they will miss that deadline and could need as many as five additional years to finish installation. Schumer has been pushing the railroads to install PTC more quickly, and is now also calling on the FRA to ensure interim safety measures are in place while PTC installation is still underway. Specifically, Schumer is calling on the FRA to do a top to bottom review of rail lines throughout the country, including New York’s Empire Corridor, to make sure that ATC, a less robust version of PTC, is installed and operational along dangerous sections of track. In addition, Schumer has asked FRA to work with railroads to improve wayside signage and other markers that could help ensure engineers are fully aware of low speed curves and bridges.

Following the derailment in Philadelphia investigators learned that Automatic Train Control (ATC) was installed on the dangerous curve and could have helped slow down the speeding train but the system had not yet been turned on. Following the derailment FRA asked Amtrak to turn that system on along the curve and to study other curves along Amtrak’s Washington, DC – Boston line to see where else it should be turned on until PTC is fully operational.  While less effective than PTC, ATC can still help improve overall safety. In addition, it can be installed much faster and at a lower cost – and in some places, like in Philadelphia, the system is already installed and just needed to be turned on. In his letter to FRA, which was also signed by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Bill Nelson (D-FL), Schumer said it was an important step to review curves along the Washington, DC – Boston route but that the FRA should not stop there and that a national review was needed to reduce the risk that this type of derailment happens on any other Amtrak line, including those in Upstate New York.

Schumer said that installing ATC should not take away from overall efforts to get the more robust PTC system up and running.  Following the derailment Amtrak announced that PTC would be operational on the NEC by the end of this year, however that would only amount to 363 miles of the total 21,000 miles traveled by Amtrak trains. The remainder of the system would take far longer because in those sections, including along the Empire Corridor, Amtrak trains run along freight rail lines and those railroads have estimated that it could take another five years before it is installed.

Schumer said given these constraints ATC is an appropriate additional safety measure that could be installed while PTC is still in the process of being implemented. Schumer is urging the FRA work with the railroads to ensure ATC is installed and turned on along all  appropriate curves and bridges in New York, as the system can drastically help slow down a speeding train and potentially help prevent or mitigate future crashes. Schumer said that while he is pleased Amtrak has committed to having PTC operational on the NEC by the end of this year, 72 percent of the miles traveled by Amtrak trains are on tracks owned by other railroads that are significantly further behind in the installation of PTC which leaves passengers on those trains more vulnerable to high-speed derailments.                                

Although the causes of the Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia have not yet been fully determined, initial reports indicate excessive speed was a major factor in the accident. According to National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) reports, the train was traveling at over 100 miles per hour, more than double the speed limit. If ATC had been installed on the track the train was traveling on, the train’s speed could have been better kept within the speed guidelines. Following the Spuyten-Duyvil derailment in 2013, the FRA and the NTSB instructed Metro-North to apply ATC to a number of curves and bridges along their network while they continue working to install PTC. Now, following the Amtrak derailment, FRA has instructed Amtrak to do the same thing for the Northeast Corridor – however, those efforts have not included the rest of Amtrak’s service area, including Upstate New York.

New York State ridership on all its various lines totaled almost 1.7 million passengers from October 1, 2013 through September 30, 2014. Today, there are at least 14 Empire Service trains that provide round trip service through the Hudson Valley between New York City and Albany, with four continuing west. Of these four, two terminate in Niagara Falls; one, the Lake Shore Limited, provides service to Chicago via Cleveland; and one, the Maple Leaf, provides service to Toronto, Canada, via Niagara Falls. On the east-west route, the Empire Service makes stops in Schenectady Schenectady (Schenectady County), Amsterdam (Montgomery County), Utica (Oneida County), Rome (Oneida County), Syracuse (Onondaga County), Rochester (Monroe County), Buffalo (Erie County), and Niagara Falls (Niagara County). South of Albany, trains stop at Hudson (Columbia County), Rhinecliff (Dutchess County), Poughkeepsie (Dutchess County), Croton-Harmon (Westchester County), and Yonkers (Westchester County) before terminating at New York Penn Station in midtown Manhattan. North of Albany, two trains operate – the New York State-supported Adirondack and the Vermont-supported Ethan Allen Express. The State supported portions are north of Albany, and both provide service to Saratoga Springs. The Adirondack continues north to Montreal, Canada, while the Ethan Allen travels within New York State as far north as Fort Edward before turning east to Rutland, Vermont.

In addition to installing ATC along the NEC line, Schumer asked Acting Administrator Feinberg to launch a comprehensive review of additional safety measures that could be pursued. Schumer said it was imperative that engineers know the speed limits and not simply rely on ATC or PTC to keep the trains at a maintainable speed. Schumer suggested increasing wayside signage, as well as a number of other tools to keep engineers aware of how fast their trains should be traveling.

A copy of the letter Senators Schumer, Blumenthal, Booker, and Nelson wrote to the Federal Railroad Administration appears below:

Dear Acting Administrator Feinberg:

The recent tragedy in Philadelphia is the latest horrific incident on our country’s passenger rail network. As we grieve for all affected, the immediate imperative is that the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) launch a proactive, national effort to immediately enhance safety for rail passengers. While we appreciate the efforts that the FRA has taken thus far – including requiring Amtrak to analyze all curves on the Northeast Corridor (NEC) and where appropriate install modifications to its Automatic Train Control (ATC) system to improve safety – we believe more can and should be done to protect passengers traveling on our nation’s railroads.

Specifically, we urge you to immediately begin a review in conjunction with Amtrak and the country’s freight and commuter railroads to determine where else throughout our nation’s rail network the installation or modification of ATC could help improve safety. We appreciate your commitment to Positive Train Control (PTC), and like you, we are committed to getting this critical safety system operational throughout our nation’s rail network as soon as possible. In addition, we are pleased that Amtrak has committed to having PTC operational on the NEC by the end of this year. That said, 72% of the miles traveled by Amtrak trains are on tracks owned by other railroads who are significantly further behind in the installation of PTC. Freight railroads who own the majority of tracks used by Amtrak trains continue to insist that it could take as many as 5 more years before the system is fully operational. This delay poses a direct risk not only to freight shipments but also to passenger trains, many of which travel along freight rail lines outside of the Northeast Corridor. In fact, the Amtrak-owned section of the NEC, where PTC will be operational by the end of this year, amounts to only 363 miles of the total 21,000 miles traveled by Amtrak trains. Given that ATC, while less effective than PTC, can still help improve safety and can be installed much faster and at a much lower cost – we urge you to engage with the freight railroads and determine where else along that network outside the NEC there would be a safety benefit to installing or modifying ATC as a temporary measure until PTC is operational.  

Following the Spuyten-Duyvil derailment in 2013, the FRA in conjunction with the NTSB, instructed Metro-North to apply ATC to a number of dangerous curves and bridges along its network. Now, once again following a derailment, the FRA has again quickly responded and has asked Amtrak to install ATC system modifications at dangerous curves along the NEC. Those two actions, while important, still leave some passengers including those traveling on other commuter rail systems and on the rest of the Amtrak system outside of the NEC in potential danger. An immediate and comprehensive review of where else ATC or other measures could help reduce the risk of over-speed derailments is not only appropriate but is also critically important to protecting safety.

Furthermore, we ask that you engage with appropriate stakeholders to look at other safety improvements that could be made immediately along commuter and passenger rail lines throughout the country to protect against over-speed derailments. Following both the Metro-North derailment in 2013, and this latest Amtrak derailment, the FRA has instructed railroads to install additional wayside signage and other tools that can help ensure engineers are aware of maximum authorized speeds. We urge you to review the country’s rail network beyond just Amtrak-owned NEC to determine if actions such as these would similarly be appropriate and helpful in improving safety along those rail lines as well.  

We appreciate your urgent attention to these issues and look forward to working with you to improve safety for all who rely on our country’s rails. 


Charles E. Schumer

United States Senator


Richard Blumenthal

United States Senator


Cory Booker

United States Senator


Bill Nelson

United States Senator





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