Most lay persons have likely never heard of the technological tool formally entitled Positive Train Control.
The safety-promoting process that goes by the shorthand of PTC is going to factor into their lives — indeed, potentially save many lives — at some point in the future, though, if they are members of the sizable American demographic that regularly relies upon trains for transportation.
Here is PTC defined, in a nutshell: The on-board technology automatically slows down a train that is moving at an excessively high speed.
Questioning whether there is a need for that seems a sadly tardy query, given multiple train wrecks in recent years that have taken the lives of many passengers.
A most recent example of a tragic outcome owing to a train traveling at an unsafe speed is, of course, the fatal train accident that occurred in Philadelphia just last month, taking the lives of eight people and injuring more than 200 other passengers.
And many California readers of this blog certainly remember the devastating train collision that killed 25 people in the San Fernando Valley town of Chatsworth in 2008.
PTC technology is being pushed by federal regulators as an antidote to such railway occurrences, with the National Transportation Safety Board strongly urging the U.S. Congress to stick with a December 31 deadline of this year that has already been imposed on commuter and intercity railroad companies.
Many of those entities are now balking at the mandate, stating that its terms cannot be fully satisfied by that date owing to funding problems and technological tweaking that is still ongoing.
Literally, time will tell as regards a full-implementation date.
It is estimated that the railroad industry could ultimately spend about $9 billion to fully install PTC. As far as train passengers are concerned (as well as motorists in passenger vehicles, motorcyclists, bicyclists and pedestrians who must negotiate train crossings), that money will unquestionably be well spent.