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CBS 2 Investigation: How Well Trained Are The Conductors On Our Rails?

Expert Says The Tragedy That Rocked Spain Probably Would Not Happen Here

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The train tragedy in Spain has raised the concern over whether something similar could happen in the Tri-State Area.

Millions of residents commute by trains every day. New York City is literally built on top of train tracks.

CBS 2 investigative reporter Tamara Leitner recently looked into how rail service is regulated and how conductors are trained.

Many New Yorkers ride trains – on the Long Island Rail Road, Metro-North, Amtrak and the subway, but they give little thought to the person operating the train.

“I’m not worried about it,” Jim Hill of Syracuse said.

“It did cross my mind today,” added Gloria Smith of Washington D.C.

“No, I don’t worry,” said Tom Speziale of Malta, N.Y.

Wednesday’s deadly train derailment in northwest Spain raises questions. The high-speed train was said to be going about 100 mph around a curve.

The Acela train can reach up to 150 mph, but we’re told the engineers go through extensive training before operating one.

“The engineer spends a long time learning how to handle the train as a unit,” said Metropolitan Transportation Authority consultant Robert Paaswell.

Paaswell, a transportation expert, explained how engineers learn to drive a train by practicing in a train simulator.

“You think you’re on a train. It vibrates and somebody is recording everything you do. You push the throttle. You push a brake. Do you blow your horn at the right time? Do you use too much energy? Too little energy?” Paaswell said.

In addition to the training, background checks and drug testing, the MTA and Amtrak have additional safeguards in place. Both have automated signal system. If a train runs a red light or is going too fast, a switch is tripped and the train goes into an emergency stop.

“They’re safe. They’re relatively safe,” Paaswell said.

So while it’s still unclear why the train derailed in Spain, experts say it’s unlikely that type of derailment could happen here because of the safeguards in place.

Experts also said train engineers are required to know their route, where the lights and stations are and when to slow down.

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