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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

Senators demand USDOT hold railroads accountable for PTC

The Dec. 18 derailment resulted in three fatalities and dozens of injuries.
Photo – Washington State Patrol


U.S. senators representing Washington, Oregon and other states have called on U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to hold railroads "accountable" when they fail to implement positive train control (PTC) and other safety measures.

In light of the deadly Amtrak Cascades derailment near Seattle last week, U.S. Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and several other U.S. senators wrote to Chao and demanded a status report on railroads' implementation of positive train control (PTC), a train-crash prevention technology that Congress has mandated railroads to implement by Dec. 31, 2018.

The senators' letter followed the Dec. 18 derailment of the inaugural run of the Amtrak Cascades 501 train in DuPont, Wash. The accident resulted in three fatalities and dozens of injuries. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators have said PTC was not operational on the route.

"Since NTSB first recommended PTC, more than 300 people have died, thousands have been injured and millions of dollars in property damages have been incurred," the senators wrote in the letter.

"The PTC deadline is now almost one year away. ... It is imperative that railroads complete implementation before the deadline. They must clearly understand that the consequences of failure will be stringent and prompt," the letter stated.

Congress mandated PTC in railway safety legislation passed in 2008. Initially, the legislation called for PTC to be implemented by the end of 2015. However, Congress extended the deadline to the end of 2018 or, under certain circumstances, the end of 2020.

The senators' letter asks Chao to report to them:
• which railroads will and won't meet the 2018 PTC deadline;
• the U.S. Department of Transportation's plans for penalizing railroads that miss the deadline;
• how the department is communicating its enforcement plans to the rail industry;
• how much funding for PTC implementation and other rail safety measures will be included in President Trump's yet-to-be-released infrastructure plan; and
• the status of USDOT's approval of funds and grants for PTC implementation.

Also signing the letter were Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Robert Casey Jr. (D-Penn.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Christopher Murphy (D-Conn.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).