In 2008 Congress mandated installation of so-called positive train control (PTC) systems throughout most of the nation's railroad network by the end of 2015, a deadline in the spotlight following a fatal passenger train derailment in Philadelphia on May 12.
The authorities can't count on compliance despite the accident on the nation's busiest rail corridor.
The New York-bound Amtrak train was travelling at 106 mph as it hit a curve where the speed limit is 50 mph. The engineer applied the emergency brakes, which did not prevent the derailment. The accident killed eight people and sent 200 to hospital.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) believes the derailment would have been prevented by installation of a PTC system, which integrates computer, satellite and radio technologies to slow down or stop a train if the engineer becomes incapacitated or makes a mistake. Some industry figures argue that the deadline is unrealistic, citing the complexity of the technology. Another argument is that demand for the systems in the aftermath of the accident and for qualified personnel to install them far exceeds supply.
There is also debate over which sector of the transportation industry should bear the cost for the PTC systems.
According to the Los Angeles Times in May, US Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has been fighting to keep the 2015 deadline in place, against Republicans who want to grant a five to seven-year delay. "The railroad industry has been lobbying furiously to delay the mandate," Feinstein told the newspaper. "In my view, that is extremely reckless policy."
The Dec 2015 deadline is incorporated in the Railway Safety Improvement Act, passed by the U.S. Congress in 2008 following a train crash in California that killed 25 people.
Date written/update: 2015-06-10