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As others have said, there are ATS and PTC (positive train control) systems in place in many areas. However, the cost of implimenting them on every single piece of track in use would be astronomical, and even the cost involved in 25 deaths would pale by comparison. For those that would argue such systems are only needed on passenger carrying routes, look at the devastation caused by the wreck in Graniteville, SC. I can think of may other wrecks that have demolished town, taken lives, and yet involved no passenger trains.

Also, as has been pointed out, the systems are not foolproof. Ignoring for the moment the hassles caused by false activations, they require a certian length of time to act. If an engineer is ****-bent on running past a signal, or is for some reason incapacitated, the train can very easily still end up on the wrong side of the signal. If there also happens to be another train out there at precisely the wrong moment, this is what happens.

Don't misunderstand me, please. As an engineer, I would love to see a system that improves my chances of going home at night. But I also understand the simple economics of the situation. Maybe the public pressure from this tragedy will change things. As I understand, there are now signals being installed on the line through Graniteville. Of course, the cold hearted part of me wonders if it's really worth it to do EVERYTHING in our power to prevent a death. At some point, doesn't the cost outweight the benefit? Like I said, I kinda like living, and I would like to think that I'm guaranteed to come home to my wife, but I accept that I may be the one to draw the short staw and save the railroad the cost of some safety equipment.

Kinda macabre, isn't it? Sorry about that. I offer my condolences to all those affected by this tragedy, and my personal pledge to do whatever I can to prevent it happening to any train I'm on.
 

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Posted By vsmith on 09/18/2008 9:03 AM
Does anyone know how long does it take between alerter signals, and how long before a un-aknowledged alerter signal activates the brakes?

On NS, it varies depending on the locomotive, but I've had alerters that go off anywhere from 20 to 45 seconds, unless reset by:
Hitting the alerter whisker;
Moving the throttle;
Blowing the horn;
Applying the automatic brake;
Bailing off the indipentand brake

Some of these do not apply to some locomotives. Also, if the automatic brake were applied already (or, heaven forbid, cut out) the alerter would not do anything at all.

As for how long it takes, that depends on a couple things. First is the time that the alerter is going off - this is usually about 20-30 seconds, I believe, thought I've not timed it myself. At the end of that time, the brake is immediately applies, the power cut, and the stop is made as quickly as possible. That can still take some time, depending on the weight and speed of the train.
 
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