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TODAY   |  December 02, 2013

Rossen: Technology could prevent train accidents

As officials look into what went wrong in a train derailment that killed four people and injured 63 in New York Sunday, NBC’s Jeff Rossen reports on new technology that may actually prevent those kinds of accidents.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> a more serious note with the new rossen reports in the wake of the deadly train derailment . officials say there's technology that could prevent accidents like this. today's national investigative correspondence jeff rossen is here with more. good morning.

>> reporter: good morning, no official cause of this accident over the weekend but investigators are look at speed and possible human error here. now there's a state of the art commuter system that can literally override the engineer and take control of the train to make sure it's not speeding or going somewhere it shouldn't. this morning, the federal government wants it installed nationwide to make us all safer. officials believe speed was a factor when this commuter train took a curve and went off the rails. but experts claim revolutionary technology could make accidents like this a thing of the past.

>> state of the art coalition avoidance technology.

>> reporter: it's called positive train control or ptc . a sophisticated system of sensors on the rails and inside the locomotive. even using satellites to track the train's movements and prevent many accidents caused by operator error. if the train is going too fast, the computer warns the crew. if the engineer doesn't slow down, the computer activates the brakes. ptc helps prevent collisions too. stopping the train from blowing through red signals if the operator is distracted.

>> it will absolutely save lives. both crew members, passengers, and maybe people along the wayside as well.

>> reporter: like in spain this summer when this train flew off the rails. the operator took the turn at nearly twice the speed allowed. 79 people were killed. in massachusetts, this transit train collided with another after the operator fell asleep. the ntsb said ptc technology would have prevented the accident. in california, 25 people were killed when this commuter train ran through a signal and collided with a freight train . again, investigators said ptc would have made the difference.

>> that on board ptc computer will take control of the train and prevent the accidents from occurring.

>> and the ntsb agrees. positive train control is on its most wanted list of safety improvements. amtrak is already using it on some routes. so is metro link in california and bnsf, a freight line but congress wants it nationwide. mandating many by the end of 2015 , including metro north . the line involved in this weekend's deadly derailment.

>> metro north is working aggressively to meet the government's deadline to start ptc but they're pushing for an extension to 2018 . law enforcement sources tell us the metro north train operator involved here said he tried to hit the breaks but they just didn't work. ptc may have helped with that too. it gives engineers an early warning about mechanical failures. back to you.