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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

Feinberg: FRA is sticking to PTC deadline, will assess fines


The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) will enforce the Dec. 31, 2015, deadline for railroads to implement positive train control (PTC), and will assess fines against railroads that are not in compliance, Acting FRA Administrator Sarah Feinberg told a congressional committee yesterday.

In her prepared testimony, Feinberg told the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials that the nation's rail system "is not as safe as it could be without full implementation of PTC."

The panel scheduled yesterday's hearing on the status of PTC implementation after federal regulators determined that PTC technology would have prevented a fatal Amtrak train derailment in Philadelphia last month. Congress required railroads to implement PTC by the end of 2015 as part of the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008.

The technology is required on Class I railroad main lines where toxic hazardous materials are transported, as well as on main lines that host intercity or commuter-rail passenger service.

Feinberg told the committee that she established a new PTC Task Force Team within the FRA that is "aggressively managing and monitoring each individual railroads' progress, tracking data, ensuring we have the most accurate and up-to-date information, and reporting in to me multiple times per week."

However, many railroads have indicated they will not meet the deadline for various reasons. By the end of 2015, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) projects that 39 percent of locomotives will be fully equipment with PTC technology; 76 percent of wayside interface units will be installed; 67 percent of base station radios will be installed; and 34 percent of required employees will be trained, Feinberg said.

According to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), 29 percent of commuter railroads are targeting to complete PTC equipment installation by 2015's end. Full PTC implementation for all commuter lines is projected by 2020.

Starting Jan. 1, 2016, the FRA will impose penalties on railroads that have not fully implemented PTC, she said. The fines will depend on the violation. Potential violations include $15,000 to $20,000 fines for failure to equip locomotives.

"The total amount of penalty each railroad faces will depend upon the amount of implementation progress the railroad has made," Feinberg said.

Additionally, the FRA is seeking authority from Congress to address the safety gap that will exist on many railroads between Jan. 1, 2016, and full PTC implementation, she said.

In remarks earlier this week to transit-rail industry representatives attending the APTA Rail conference in Salt Lake City, Feinberg acknowledged talk in Congress earlier this year of extending the deadline, but "frankly, that was before the Amtrak derailment."

Meanwhile, Metrolink announced that it launched PTC in revenue service demonstration (RSD) across its entire 341-mile network earlier this month. RSD means trains with passengers on board.

"With this latest accomplishment, Metrolink becomes the first railroad in the nation to have PTC running during regular service on all of its hosted lines and remains on track to become the nation's first passenger rail system to have a fully operational, interoperable, and certified PTC system in place," Metrolink officials said in a press release.

Metrolink has long stated its goal to fully implement PTC on its railroad before the Dec. 31, 2015, federal deadline. It was a deadly Metrolink train crash near Chatsworth, Calif., in 2008 that ultimately led to Congress' passage of the rail safety legislation that mandated PTC.

On Sept. 12, 2008, a Metrolink commuter train ran a red light and crashed head-on into a Union Pacific Railroad locomotive, killing 25 people. Investigators determined that the Metrolink train engineer had been distracted by text messages he was sending on his cell phone moments before the crash.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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