When two commuter trains into each other near Brussels, Belgium, on Feb. 15, 2010, 18 passengers and crew members lost their lives. A total of 100 people on both trains suffered injuries in the head-on collision that appears to have been caused by the lack of automatic brakes that engage when a train runs a track-side red light.
The Wall Street Journal has reported that the train without the automatic brakes had not been upgraded with the otherwise commonly used safety equipment because doing so would have cost too much. Now it seems obvious that improving rail safety has proven far more costly.
Automatic braking systems–called positive train controls–are not failsafe, as last year’s fatal DC Metro crash seems to have shown. At the same time, the equipment works quite well, and the Federal Railroad Administration has mandated the use of positive train controls on all U.S. lines operated by companies such as Amtrak, CSX, Conrail and Norfolk Southern by 2015. Some rail operators have opposed the requirement on, yes, cost grounds.
Safety comes at a cost. Companies should bear those costs. When passenger and crew protections after sacrificed for profits, people die. That should not happen.