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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

Get PTC done ASAP, Feinberg advises


The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) will soon unveil its expectations for railroads to meet the newly extended Dec. 31, 2018, deadline for positive train control (PTC) implementation, FRA Administrator Sarah Feinberg told members of the Railroad Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC) last week.

Feinberg urged railroads not to make the extension their primary focus, but to focus on "getting PTC up and running as soon as possible," according to a prepared statement of remarks.

"Over the last year, I am sure you have observed that FRA is in a much more aggressive posture on PTC, and everyone should expect for that posture to continue," Feinberg told the committee, which advises the railroad industry on safety policy.

Late last month, Congress gave railroads an extra three years to implement PTC on their networks. Most railroads had informed the FRA and Congress that they would not be able to meet the previous deadline of Dec. 31 of this year.

After the FRA insisted that it would enforce that deadline and begin issuing fines against railroads that were out of compliance, many freight and commuter railroads and Amtrak said they would cease operations in order to avoid the fines.

In the next few weeks, the railroads will hear more specific details on how the FRA intends to work with them on their implementation plans and schedules to meet the new deadline, Feinberg told RSAC members.

"To be clear: As railroads contemplate the new PTC deadline, I would urge them to view that new date — three years from now — as the absolute latest moment for implementation," Feinberg said.

Feinberg also addressed three other topics with the group: Crude oil transportation, bridge safety and blocked rail crossings.

On the crude oil issue, Feinberg said the RSAC's Hazardous Materials Working Group will be reviewing the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration's hazmat regulations to determine of adjustments are needed.

Regarding blocked crossings and bridge safety, Feinberg said the FRA is is now receiving more public complaints on those two issues than the agency receives on any other matter, including PTC.

She acknowledged that railroads typically respond appropriately when members of the public raise questions or concerns about bridge safety or  blocked crossings. However, there have been some instances in which a railroad has ignored citizens' complaints about bridges and crossings. When that happens, the citizens contact their members of Congress and/or the FRA.

Feinberg recommended that railroads always answer members of the public when contacted with questions or concerns about bridges and blocked crossings.

"If railroads continue to respond with silence when it comes to bridge safety and blocked crossings, my sense is that Congress will ask us to step in more aggressively," she said.