RAIL SAFETY: U.S. House aims to extend positive train control deadline

Railroads have warned legislators than shutdowns will occur this January unless an extension is granted

October 01, 2015

Legislators in the U.S. House are moving to extend the federal deadline for automated train safety control systems that most railroads say they will simply not be able to meet. 

A bipartisan measure has been introduced in the lower chamber that would push back the deadline, presently Dec. 31, 2015, for most railroads to install automated train technology until December 2018. The bill is known as the Positive Train Control Enforcement and Implementation Act of 2015 (H.R. 3651). The impetus for the measure, according to supporters, is to assuage any disruption to freight and commuter services in the country.

"Completion of the Positive Train Control mandate by the end of the year is not achievable, and extending the deadline is essential to preventing significant disruptions of both passenger and freight rail service across the country,” House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) said in a statement. “Railroads must implement this important but complicated safety technology in a responsible manner, and we need to give them the necessary time to do so.”

Positive Train Control automated navigation systems regulate the speed and track movements of trains; such systems are required under a mandate that was set in the aftermath of a 2008 commuter rail crash in California. However, several rail companies have warned they will shut down service in January 2016 to avoid fines for not meeting the deadline.

"Over the years, numerous accidents could have been prevented had PTC been installed," said Rep. Peter DeFazio (Ore.), who is the ranking Democrat on the panel. "Unfortunately, according to the Federal Railroad Administration and the GAO, nearly every railroad will fail to meet the deadline set back in 2008. This one-time extension is now a necessity to prevent disruptions to rail service across the nation and to ensure that PTC will finally be fully implemented. Stakeholders must use this time to get PTC online as soon as possible. Congress will not accept any more delays." 

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