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Rail News: Amtrak

Amtrak may suspend rail service in mid-December


Add Amtrak to the list of railroads that may suspend some rail service if Congress doesn’t extend a Dec. 31 deadline for railroads to install positive train control (PTC) safety technology.

Amtrak President and Chief Executive Officer Joseph Boardman on Monday warned Congress that, as of Dec. 1, it will begin notifying passengers through the railroad’s reservation system of service disruptions that may occur if the PTC deadline isn’t postponed.

"There will be significant impacts to our service and on our customers and tenant railroads," Boardman wrote in an Oct. 5 letter to Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. "The potential economic impacts would also be substantial, since a vast majority of our network would be inoperable without an extension of the deadline."

Amtrak will work with state and local partners, commuter-rail operators and freight railroad to ensure that passengers and partners are aware of service disruptions that may occur, he added.

Amtrak is the latest passenger or freight railroad to notify Congress of a potential rail-service shutdown that could occur after Dec. 31. The rail industry has been warning Congress for years that railroads will need more time to implement the new technology.

Amtrak has said it will be able to meet the PTC deadline for most of the track it owns, which includes the Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington, D.C.

However, most of the 21,000-mile national network that Amtrak operates is owned by other railroads, and those railroads are responsible for PTC installation on their infrastructure. Many freight railroads have said they may refuse to transport freight and may suspend passenger service on their track that is not PTC-compliant, Boardman’s letter stated.

"Based on information that we have gathered from the hosts, Amtrak will plan on suspending service on the national network beginning mid-December on routes that not PTC compliant," he wrote.

The Senate included an extension in a broader transportation bill that hasn’t yet passed Congress. Meanwhile, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee last week introduced a bill that would extend the deadline for three years.  House and Senate leaders have said that they are negotiating to get some legislation to President Obama this month, according to news reports.