Use Automation on Trains to Reduce Driver Distraction
In September of 2008, a commuter train collided head-on with a freight train in Southern California, killing 25 passengers and injuring 135. A little over a month later, the Safety Improvement Act of 2008 was signed into law, a bill that demanded that positive train control (PTC) technology be installed on the majority of the country's trains. PTC, which had been in development for years before the Metrolink crash, shares similarities with the NextGen air traffic system, using GPS and a degree of automation to take human error out of the equation. When a PTC-equipped train detects that its exceeding the speed limit for a given stretch of rail, or if it's been accidentally switched to the wrong track, it can slow or even stop itself. PTC doesn't turn trains into full-fledged self-driving robots, but it's a step in that direction.
Granted, passenger rail is a remarkably safe mode of transport — riders are exponentially less likely to be hurt or killed on a train than on the road in a car — but from increasing safety to simply keeping a closer, more GPS-enabled eye on all freight and passenger trains, PTC is is nothing but upside. The key now is to hasten its arrival, and ensure that the system's December 2015 deadline doesn't slip quietly by.