What is Positive Train Control, and would it have prevented the Amtrak wreck?

Published: Tuesday, December 19, 2017 @ 11:14 AM

Audio From Train Derailment In Washington State

The Amtrak train that derailed Monday in Washington state was not using a safety technology system that Congress mandated nearly 10 years ago.

The system, called Positive Train Control, possibly could have prevented the crash that killed at least three people and sent more than 100 to the hospital. According to National Transportation Safety Board officials, the train was traveling at 80 miles per hour along a section of track that calls for a 30 mph speed limit. PTC is a system designed to slow or stop trains that are moving too fast.

The president of Amtrak, Richard Anderson, said Monday that the PTC system was not in use on the stretch of track where the train derailed.

What is PTC and could it have prevented Monday’s crash? Here’s how it works. 

A head-on crash between a freight and passenger train near Los Angeles in 2008 that left 25 dead spurred Congress to enact the Rail Safety Improvement Act. The act required all major U.S. rail lines to implement the PTC system. That process – installing the system on trains and rail lines – was to be completed by the end of 2015.

What Congress did not address at the time was the cost for the system. The Association of American Railroads estimated the cost of the PTC system at $22.5 billion over 20 years – making the requirement the costliest regulatory expenditure ever imposed on rail systems.

Congress was persuaded to extend the deadline by three years for most companies (some by five years if certain measures were met), giving rail companies until Dec. 31, 2018, to have the systems in place.

PTC has been fully implemented on only 456 miles of rail tracks.

What is positive train control and how does it work?

The system, using GPS to monitor a train’s location as it moves along its route, is designed to slow down or stop a train to avoid a collision with another train or a derailment if the train is going too fast for the area or conditions.

The system uses a connection between a train's onboard computer, 'ping' points along a rail route and dispatch stations. Before leaving on its trip, the train’s computer system downloads information about speed limits, construction areas or any other possible hazards along its route. 

As the train travels along its route, the “ping” points along the rails keep the train’s computer in contact with a dispatcher. The system transmits information about the train such as its speed and any problems or conditions that would require the train to slow down.

If there is a problem, the train’s conductor is alerted. If for some reason the conductor does not or cannot respond, the train can be slowed or stopped by the system via the onboard computer. 

Why wasn’t it in use to prevent Monday’s Amtrak derailment?

Sound Transit spokesman Geoff Patrick told CNN that while PTC was in place on segments of the track that the Amtrak train was using, the system was not fully implemented. Sound Transit, which owns the track where the train derailed, said the target date for full implementation of its PTC system – tracks and trains -- is the second quarter of 2018. 

How many trains and how much track does has Amtrak have equipped with PTC?

As of the second quarter of 2017, Amtrak has equipped 49 percent of its locomotives and 67 percent of its tracks equipped with PTC. The PTC safety plan submitted to the Federal Railroad Administration for approval has been conditionally certified.

As of March 2017, freight railroads had spent $8 billion on PTC systems and passenger lines had spent $3.5 billion on the system. 

Here, from the AAR, is a list of the complexities involved with implementing the PTC system:

Developing PTC Technology: Much of the technology PTC requires did not exist when the mandate became law in 2008. Railroads had to develop the required technology for locomotives, wayside interface units and back office systems from scratch. 

Deploying hundreds of thousands of technology pieces: PTC involves the deployment of hundreds of thousands of technology pieces — from onboard locomotive systems to switch position monitor — across the nationwide rail network.

Geo-mapping 60,000 miles: The approximately 60,000 miles of railroad right-of-way on which PTC technology will be installed and 486,000 field assets (i.e. mileposts, curves, grade crossings, switches, signals, etc.) must be precisely geo-mapped for PTC technology to work correctly. This mapping forms the basis for the system’s track database used by the back office server.

Interoperability is essential: To function properly, PTC systems must be interoperable so that any train operating on another railroad’s network can communicate with the host railroad’s PTC system. 

Equipping 1,900 “dark territory” switches with power: Some long stretches of track in remote areas use only one main line without any signalization. To make these areas PTC compatible, railroad switches must be upgraded and electrical power must be brought to the site.

Phased rollout is critical for safety: Implementation of PTC must occur in phases and location by location, starting with less complex areas and proceeding to the more operationally complex areas with lessons learned incorporated at each step to ensure that the system functions safely.

Required testing software is not available: Once all testing of individual PTC components is complete and those components have been installed, testing of the entire system as a whole can begin.

Training cannot be completed until the PTC system is operational: PTC requires rigorous training for 125,000 Class I railroad and commuter rail employees, which will be completed in parallel with installation and deployment. Training will happen before the system is turned on.

Tom Petty died of accidental drug overdose, family says 

Published: Friday, January 19, 2018 @ 7:15 PM

Tom Petty Death Caused By Accidental Drug Overdose

Tom Petty died from an accidental drug overdose after taking a variety of medications, the family for the legendary rock star said Friday. 

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Petty, who suffered emphysema, knee problems and more recently a fractured hip, was prescribed various pain medications including Fentanyl patches, his family said. 

“On the day he died he was informed his hip had graduated to a full on break and it is our feeling that the pain was simply unbearable and was the cause for his over use of medication,” his family wrote on Facebook

The family called Petty’s Oct. 2 death an unfortunate accident. 

“As a family we recognize this report may spark a further discussion on the opioid crisis and we feel that it is a healthy and necessary discussion and we hope in some way this report can save lives. Many people who overdose begin with a legitimate injury or simply do not understand the potency and deadly nature of these medications.”

DOVER, DE - JUNE 22: Tom Petty performs onstage at the Firefly Music Festival at The Woodlands of Dover International Speedway on June 22, 2013 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Firefly Music Festival)(Theo Wargo)

Drake makes surprise appearance at Memphis nightclub

Published: Friday, January 19, 2018 @ 10:47 PM

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 09:  Drake attends
TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 09: Drake attends "The Carter Effect" premiere during the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival at Princess of Wales Theatre on September 9, 2017 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images)(Joe Scarnici/Getty Images)

He may have started from the bottom, but rapper Drake is making headlines after doing one dance that started in the Bluff City.

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According to party promoter Curtis Givens, the Grammy winner called him wanting to have a private party at In LOVE Memphis, a popular nightclub.

Givens said it was a last minute call, but he and his business partner were up for the challenge.

As word quickly spread that Drake was in Memphis, videos started to popping up on social media.

He was seen doing the popular "shoot" dance made famous by Memphis rapper BlocBoy JB.

About Last Night Wit My Bro🔥💯 @champagnepapi

A post shared by BlocBoy JB 💯💯💯 (@blocboy_jb) on

Drake even previewed new music during his appearance at the club.
He also made a stop at Friday night's Grizzlies game against the Sacramento Kings.

Drake is no stranger to the area. His father, Dennis Graham, is from Memphis, and Drake is known to visit frequently.

Woman dies after falling from balcony of Carnival cruise ship

Published: Friday, January 19, 2018 @ 9:54 PM

Carnival Cruise Elation. (Photo: ActionNewsJax.com)
Carnival Cruise Elation. (Photo: ActionNewsJax.com)

A woman died Friday after falling from the balcony of a room on the Jacksonville-based Carnival Elation cruise ship.

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The woman fell from the balcony to several decks below, Carnival said in a statement.

Carnival Elation departed Jacksonville on Thursday for a four-day cruise to the Bahamas.

Carnival sent the following statement to Action News Jax:
"Early this morning a guest fell from her balcony to several decks below. The ship’s medical team responded immediately, but, unfortunately, she passed away. The incident was reported to all proper authorities and CARE Team support was offered to fellow travelers and her family. Our thoughts and prayers are with the deceased and her family. Carnival Elation departed Jacksonville Jan. 18 on a four-day cruise to the Bahamas."

Scientists worry brain-wasting 'zombie deer' disease could spread to humans

Published: Friday, January 19, 2018 @ 9:09 PM

File photo. (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)
Jack Taylor/Getty Images
File photo. (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)(Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

Deer across North America are dying from a mysterious disease that gradually destroys the animals’ nervous systems.

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And scientists are concerned that the infection could make its way to humans. 

Chronic wasting disease — or “zombie deer disease” — was first observed in 1967 in Fort Collins, Colorado, and has since infected wild herds in 24 states and Canada, as well as in South Korea and Norway, NPR reported.

“CWD passes from animal to animal through prions, misfolded proteins that cause other proteins to misfold around them,” NPR reported. “Different prion diseases tend to only harm certain species, but can evolve to overcome those limitations.”

In some herds, as many as half of the animals carry prions.

But direct contact isn’t the only way prions are transmitted. According to The New York Times, sick animals and cadavers can spread prions through plants and soil, which could be coated with deformed proteins for years, perhaps even decades.
An animal infected with the disease can live two years before signs of symptoms -- such as a vacant stare, thick saliva, exposed ribs or drooping heads -- become visible.

There have been no reported human illnesses due to the disease, and scientists don’t have conclusive evidence that infected meat has ever harmed people, suggesting there is a “species barrier” between humans and deer.

Researchers led by Mark Zabel, associate director at Colorado State University’s Prion Research Center, found that macaque monkeys who ate infected deer contracted the disease, the first time the disease was shown to spread to a primate through meat.

"While most research shows there's a robust species barrier, this recent study showed that barrier might not be quite as robust as we once thought," Matt Dunfee, head of the Chronic Wasting Disease Alliancein Fort Collins, Colorado, told NPR.

Zabel and his team also found that the prions involved in the “zombie disease,” which scientists have only known about for 50 years, are probably still evolving, “which leads us to believe it's only a matter of time before a prion emerges that can spread to humans,” NPR reported.

A map where chronic wasting disease has been reported. (Photo: National Wildlife Health Center)

Mad cow disease, for example, is a prion disease that evolved from scrapie, a deadly disease that afflicts sheep. Once the prions were passed to cows, the cows developed a prion disease of their own (mad cow disease). And when humans ate the beef from those sick cows, they developed prions in their own brains. As of 2016, according to the Food and Drug Administration, 231 people had died from the condition.

Zabel believes the only way to get rid of CWD prions is to set controlled fires. But “there’s a lot that we still don’t know and don’t understand about the disease,” Zabel said in an interview with The New York Times.

According to Michael Miller, senior wildlife veterinarian for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, mule deer transmission more than tripled toward the end of 2017, and CWD continues to be prevalent in Colorado.

Public health officials in the area have been monitoring for CWD and human brain-wasting diseases, such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

But over the past 21 years, rising rates of both diseases haven’t impacted human health.

Still, as a precaution, Dunfee told NPR, "if you are hunting in an area where CWD is found, have your animal tested. If it comes back positive, don't eat the meat."