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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

House transportation bill includes PTC deadline extension, RRIF program changes


Yesterday, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee introduced a five-year surface transportation funding bill that would extend the mandated positive train control (PTC) deadline from Dec. 31, 2015, to Dec. 31, 2020.

In lieu of installing PTC on all or some of the tracks on which the technology is otherwise currently required, the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act also would enable a railroad to use an alternative risk reduction strategy to reduce the risk of a poison- or toxic-by-inhalation material release to the same extent if PTC were installed on those tracks. The railroad could revise their implementation plan to reflect lines that are added or removed per their alternative risk reduction strategy, and could submit implementation plan changes by Dec. 31, 2015, instead of by Dec. 31, 2012.

The bill also would implement changes to the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) program to encourage a higher level of participation and make the loan process under the program faster, and more efficient and predictable. In addition, high-speed rail projects would be included in the RRIF program.

Established in 1998, the RRIF program authorizes the Federal Railroad Administration to provide direct loans and loan guarantees totaling up to $35 billion to eligible railroads, state and local governments, government-sponsored authorities and corporations, or joint ventures. Funds can be used to acquire, improve or rehabilitate intermodal or rail equipment or facilities, including track, bridges, yards, buildings and shops; refinance outstanding debt incurred for those purposes; or to develop or establish new intermodal or railroad facilities.

However, the $260 billion bill also includes provisions that would enable states to increase truck size and weight limits — a part of the measure the rail industry considers controversial. States could increase truck weight limits to 97,000 pounds, up from the current 80,000-pound limit. In addition, states could allow double- and triple-trailer trucks to travel over longer distances, as well as permit trucks weighing up to 126,000 pounds to travel on the interstate system for up to 25 miles.

Yesterday, Association of American Railroads (AAR) officials said allowing heavier and bigger trucks would damage the nation’s roads highways, which would require states and taxpayers to spend more on repairs, and add to traffic congestion.

“Rather than increasing the taxpayer burden, this bill should ensure all modes of transportation pay their fair share,” said Ed Hamberger, the AAR’s president and chief executive officer, in a prepared statement.

Tomorrow, the bill is scheduled for mark-up in the House committee, which could vote on the full bill before the day’s end, railroad industry lobbyists said in interviews.

In a prepared statement, Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) described the bill as “the largest transportation reform bill since the creation of the Interstate Highway System in 1956.”

“This is a five-year bill that reforms our federal transportation programs, cuts the red tape and bureaucracy that delays projects across the country, gives states more flexibility to determine their most critical infrastructure needs, provides states with long-term stability to undertake major improvements, and encourages private sector participation in helping to finance transportation projects,” he said.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 2/1/2012