Senate Commerce Committee approves markup for bill to extend positive-train-control deadline by five years
Members of the Senate Commerce Committee yesterday voted to approve the markup of a bill that would extend the deadline for affected rail companies to implement positive-train-control (PTC) technology until Dec. 31, 2020, instead of the current deadline that would require implementation by the end of this year.
In addition to the five-year extension, the legislation introduced by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) would give the U.S. Secretary of Transportation the discretion to grant one-year extensions after the proposed 2020 deadline, as long as those extensions expire by Dec. 31, 2022.
Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) noted that multiple reports indicate that most railroads will not meet the current Dec. 31, 2015, deadline to implement PTC technology, which is designed to prevent trains colliding.
“Railroads have made a good-faith effort to install PTC,” Thune said during the markup hearing, which was webcast. “They spent over $5 billion in private funds, deployed over 19,000 wayside antennas and equipped—or partially equipped—over 13,000 locomotives. Yet, for every major freight railroad, and nearly every small freight commuter railroad, the PTC deadline is not attainable.
“PTC needs to be done, and it needs to be done right. Rather than introducing new operational and safety risks from an incomplete system or punishing railroads making a good-faith effort to implement this extremely complex and expensive mandate, Congress should extend the PTC deadline to account for the advanced technical and government-imposed implementation challenges.”
During the markup hearing, Blunt said one reason railroad companies have not been able to meet this year’s PTC deadline is that the FCC took a lengthy time to establish site guidelines for PTC infrastructure. The proposed extension would allow railroad companies to complete the implementation of the safety technology, he said.
“There’s nothing in the legislation that is proposed that says that we shouldn’t move to positive train control; it’s just the reality that we’re nowhere close to getting there,” Blunt said. “The purpose of the legislation is to create time here, and it’s appropriate to have reporting done … to see how the various railroads are complying.”
The mandate for implementing PTC was passed in the aftermath of the tragic September 2008 collision of a Union Pacific freight train and a Metrolink commuter train in the Chatsworth district of Los Angeles.
At that time, California rail officials expressed a desire to implement PTC by 2012, even though the legal deadline was in 2015, Frank Lonegro—vice president of service design for CSX Transportation—said during testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee earlier this year. Despite this focus, Metrolink has announced that it only will be in the testing phase of its PTC implementation in 2016, Lonegro said.