The crash investigation won’t be complete for a while, but all the evidence so far indicates that the engineer aboard the Metrolink commuter train ran a red light. Had automatic control systems been in place, the locomotive’s brakes would have activated. The crash could have been averted and lives saved.
Such systems have been available for more than two decades. In fact in 1990, federal safety officials placed automatic controls - devices capable of overriding human operator errors - at the top of its "most wanted" list for rail safety improvements.
Even though train ridership in California has skyrocketed, only the rail line between Los Angeles and San Diego currently has automatic controls. The Capitol Corridor, which runs 32 passenger trains a day between Sacramento and the Bay area, does not. Those trains run shoulder to shoulder with freights. It’s a huge logistical challenge to keep them running on time without colliding.
The risk of accidents has grown too great to ignore. Congress should mandate automatic control systems on all high risk rail corridors where passenger and freight trains share tracks, and appropriate the funds to pay for them. Doing nothing is no longer an option.
Ginger Rutland writes for The Sacramento Bee opinion pages.