COLUMBIA - A South Carolina lawmaker wants to fine rail companies that don't implement a safety system investigators say could have prevented a deadly weekend crash, complaining that delays and extensions have dragged on for a decade.
A bill proposed Wednesday by state Sen. Marlon Kimpson would levy fines of at least $2,500 per month against rail companies that don't have "positive train control" systems installed by the end of this year, in compliance with a current federal deadline.
"Unless they have some incentive to complete the project, they have every incentive to delay," Kimpson said.
A decade ago, Congress passed a law requiring railroads to adopt the technology on all tracks that carry passenger trains.
A requirement for liquid-hauling freight trains was prompted by a 2005 train wreck in Graniteville in which nine people were killed and more than 250 were treated for exposure to gases from a toxic chlorine spill.
Intended to prevent trains from colliding or derailing, the positive train control system relies on GPS, wireless radio and computers to monitor train positions and automatically slow or stop trains that are in danger of colliding, derailing from excessive speed or about to enter a track where crews are working.
National Transportation Safety Board investigators have said the system could have helped prevent an Amtrak passenger train from slamming into a CSX Corp. freight train parked on a siding early Sunday. The Amtrak conductor and engineer were killed in the crash near Cayce, and more than 100 passengers were injured.
Railroads were initially given seven years to start using the technology across the country's 20,000 locomotives and 60,000 miles of track.
But when it became clear that few if any railroads would meet the deadline, Congress extended it another three years to Dec. 31, 2018, with the option to grant railroads that show progress an additional two years to Dec. 31, 2020.
Several freight railroads have previously told the government they won't be able to meet the 2018 deadline.
Both industry experts and rail companies have attributed implementation delays to costs and the sheer size of the nation's rail system.
Kimpson, who worked on cases associated with the Graniteville crash, said that it's past time to act, before another catastrophe.
"I just want to move swiftly and act expeditiously," he said.
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