As published by Keith Laing in The Hill.
Senate to consider extending deadline for automating trains
The Senate committee that oversees transportation issues is scheduled to mark up a measure on Wednesday that would extend a deadline for U.S. railways to equip their trains with automated control systems by five years.
Current law requires that most major railroad companies install automated systems known as Positive Train Control (PTC) by December 2015. Railroad companies have complained the mandate, which was implemented in 2008 after a deadly train crash in California, is too onerous to meet.
The legislation, which is sponsored by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and currently before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, would extend the deadline to December 2020.
Blunt has said it is important to allow railroads to implement the automatic train control systems properly.
“We must work to do everything we can to improve train safety and accident prevention without burdening our nation’s freight and passenger rail industry,” Blunt said in a statement when the measure was introduced on March 5.
“Unmanageable deadlines could result in higher costs and a disruption of service,” he continued. “This bipartisan bill will help ease the Positive Train Control deadline to give railroads in Missouri and nationwide enough time to fully and safely implement this new technology.”
The automated train mandate has drawn attention because of a recent string of accidents on Amtrak and commuter railways in New York and California.
Supporters of the mandate decried the Senate proposal to extend the deadline as the markup approached on Wednesday.
“A blanket five-year extension of PTC is the wrong approach. We understand that some of the reasons for delay in implementing PTC are outside the control of the railroads, but these companies could have done more to meet this mandate,” AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department President Ed Wytkind said in a statement.
“Any extension should be of shorter duration and considered on a case-by-case basis while requiring carriers to submit a plan for how they will meet an extended deadline,” Wytkind continued. “At a time when the safety of rail transportation is gaining much-needed attention, it makes no sense for the Senate to only move a bill that delays implementation of life-saving technology without considering comprehensive safety reforms.”
The rail industry has been more supportive of Blunt’s legislation.
“America’s freight rail industry welcomes the legislation to extend the deadline for implementing Positive Train Control on the nation’s rail system and appreciates the senators’ recognition that the existing mandate to have a fully interoperable, nationwide PTC system tested and safely operating by the end of 2015 is simply not possible and must be changed,” Association of American Railroads (AAR) President Ed Hamberger said in a statement when the measure was first introduced.
“The AAR believes the new deadline set by the legislation is a reasonable and responsible extension and provides the freight and passenger rail industries the time needed to fully install, test and approve PTC,” he continued. “While the freight rail industry has spent $5.2 billion to date on PTC and progress has been substantial, much remains to be done before PTC can safely operate coast to coast. This bill provides railroads the time necessary to fully and safely implement PTC without having to navigate an arbitrary and infeasible statutory deadline.”