Holman Jenkins Jr at WSJ on how Congress railroaded the railroads.
…At a cost of $13 billion or more, they must install tens of thousands of radio antennas along the track to inform a computerized locomotive about speed restrictions and other conditions ahead. A special challenge for Amtrak and other passenger lines has been obtaining the necessary radio spectrum. A three-year wrangle with the Federal Communications Commission and private license holders is why the system, already installed along the crash route, was not yet turned on by Amtrak.
Meanwhile, aboard every Amtrak train undoubtedly nowadays are hundreds of passenger smartphones constantly broadcasting their location using GPS over the same commercial airwaves that provide increasingly reliable call and broadband connectivity to the average consumer. Indeed, Apple and Google probably knew, or could have known, about the Philly accident before Amtrak did, based on the large number of phones that were moving and then suddenly not moving.
More than this, a train runs on rails and doesn’t have the opportunity to deviate or take wrong turns and detours the way a car does. So why not program speed limits of a given route into the train itself, as Google does with map information programmed into its self-driving car?
A Google car interprets and obeys traffic signals. Why not adapt the same technology to intervene if an engineer fails to notice or heed a signal telling him to slow down or stop? The complexity of railroad operations is significant, but not as complex as the decentralized operation of a hundred million cars on our roadways. So why not, in an emergency, allow a remote authority to take control of a train with a few keystrokes?