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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

Railroad execs reiterate need for PTC deadline extension

Rail industry executives yesterday again warned of a nationwide disruption in rail service after Jan. 1, 2016, if Congress doesn’t extend its deadline for the implementation of positive train control (PTC) safety technology.

In a conference call with news media yesterday, representatives from the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), Association of American Railroads (AAR) and three commuter railroads reiterated the rail industry's stance that it is committed to implementing PTC to make railroads safer, and has made significant progress in getting the automatic train speed and braking systems up and running. Class I railroads have already invested $6 billion on PTC implementation and likely will spend up to $10 billion to complete the process; commuter railroads ultimately will spend $3.5 billion on PTC.
But because of the various complexities involved in installing and testing the new technology, railroads will not have completed the PTC implementation process in time to meet the Dec. 31 deadline that Congress set when it passed railroad safety legislation requiring PTC in 2008.

Many railroads have said previously that because the Federal Railroad Administration is insisting on enforcing the current deadline, they will have to cease operations on some of their lines in order to avoid facing hefty fines. The officials on yesterday’s call noted that such a rail service shutdown would create chaos for commuters, freight-rail customers and the economy. The situation would force millions of cars and trucks onto the nation's highways, resulting in gridlock in many urban areas.

On the call were APTA President and Chief Executive Officer Michael Melaniphy, AAR President and CEO Ed Hamberger, Metra Executive Director and CEO Don Orseno, Virginia Railway Express CEO Douglas Allen and Altamont Corridor Express Director of Operations Brian Schmidt.

Hamberger said Congress must act before the end of the month. If not, railroads will have to begin notifying riders and customers of the impending rail service shutdown.

"This cannot be business as usual in Washington, where they look at the Dec. 31 deadline and say, 'We'll take care of it on Dec. 30,' " Hamberger said.

The Senate has passed a bill that would extend the deadline, but the House has not yet done so. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has introduced a measure that would extend the deadline, however.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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