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Congressmen press Amtrak for PTC status update

U.S. Reps. Peter DeFazio (left) and Michael Capuano
Photo – DeFazio and Capuano websites

U.S. Reps. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and Michael Capuano (D-Mass.) have asked Amtrak President and Chief Executive Officer Richard Anderson for a detailed update on the railroad's safety culture and implementation of positive train control (PTC).

In a letter sent yesterday, the congressmen said they want to know what safety culture weaknesses Amtrak has identified in its organization and the specific steps it is taking to resolve them immediately. The letter was copied to labor unions that represent Amtrak employees.

"Acknowledging that Amtrak has a weak safety culture is the first step toward fixing it, but the traveling public should not have to wait for another incident to know whether Amtrak has sufficiently addressed these issues," the congressmen wrote. "Amtrak should be the safest passenger rail service provider in the world, and we hope to help you on that trajectory."

DeFazio is ranking member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and Capuano is ranking member of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials.

Their letter was issued as the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) continues its investigation of last month's Amtrak Cascades train derailment in DuPont, Washington, which killed three passengers and injured dozens of others. NTSB investigators found that the train was traveling 79 mph into a 30-mph curve. Shortly after the incident, the NTSB confirmed that it likely would not have occurred had PTC been operational on the line.

PTC must be a top priority for Amtrak, regardless of whether it owns the infrastructure or equipment, the congressmen wrote. Amtrak operates the Cascades train, but Sound Transit owns the track.

"Since the incident, it has become increasingly clear that we have no idea what the status is for PTC implementation on equipment that Amtrak does not own but operates, such as State-supported routes, like the Point Defiance Bypass, and on routes that Amtrak does not own but where Amtrak trains operate," the letter stated. "We want and need the full picture, regardless of whether Amtrak owns it. If you operate it or operate on it, we want to know the status of PTC implementation in detail."

DeFazio and Capuano asked that by Feb. 16 Anderson provide the details that Amtrak is expected to report to the Federal Railroad Administration.

Last week, DeFazio and Capuano introduced the "Positive Train Control Implementation and Financing Act" (H.R. 4766) to speed up PTC implementation.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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