NJ Transit Crash May Spur Regulatory Crackdown

Law360 discusses the train crash at the New Jersey's Hoboken Terminal with Marc Scribner. 

While the cause of the accident is still unknown, the incident shines a spotlight on federal safety mandates that NJ Transit and other commuter railroads have been slow to implement — including so-called positive train control technology that can slow down or stop trains — and experts say it could lead to calls for more aggressive action from regulators and tougher rules on equipment upgrades and staffing.

“With everything that’s been going on with local transit agencies, you’ve already had the Federal Railroad Administration and the Federal Transit Administration indicate that they’re watching much more closely these metropolitan transit agencies,” Marc Scribner, a research fellow with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, told Law360. “I don’t think this will be the end of the story. I expect you’ll see some sort of aggressive response from regulators, but they’re going to wait and see like everyone else.”

Others say it’s premature to speculate that a PTC system could have prevented the Hoboken crash, given what little factual information is available about the crash and its likely cause.

“When Congress required this in 2008, they knew this was an unfunded mandate, they knew that commuter rail was going to struggle with this far more than the freight railroads, they were struggling with millions of dollars of maintenance backlogs and struggling to keep above water,” Scribner said. “And to just throw this additional thing on top of them, there’s been a lot of political failure.”

Scribner said that often missing in the PTC debate is the fact that there are competing safety concerns, such as grade crossings that have been far more dangerous and have caused more deaths annually than high-speed train derailments.

“I don't think it’s fair for members of Congress to come down on these agencies for not installing PTC quickly enough when you were looking at a nearly $3 billion additional cost and Congress basically said go ahead and find that money,” Scribner said.

Read the full article at Law360