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Rail News: Positive Train Control

Bill proposes PTC extension to 2018; FRA to issue rule on cameras in cabs


Railroads would have until 2018 to install positive train control (PTC) technology under a bill introduced yesterday in the Senate.

U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.). who chairs the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, announced yesterday that the committee will meet July 15 to consider and vote on the Comprehensive Transportation and Consumer Protection Act of 2015 (S. 1732).

The six-year transportation bill includes "key reforms to enhance safety, provide regulatory relief, streamline grant programs, and improve the accountability and efficiency of oversight efforts," according to a Thune press release.

Included in the measure is an extension of the PTC deadline, currently set at Dec. 31. The extension is less than was discussed on Capitol Hill earlier this year, but the deadly Amtrak train derailment in May heightened concerns about the need for railroads to implement PTC. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which is investigating the Amtrak crash, has said the tragedy would have been prevented if PTC had been implemented on the track segment where the derailment occurred in Philadelphia.

Thune said S. 1732 includes the Railroad Reform Enhancement and Efficiency Act (S. 1626), which the committee amended and passed, but with additions that include a PTC deadline extension. According to the new bill, a Class I or other railroad required to implement PTC would submit to the transportation secretary an updated implementation plan.

That plan would set a review and approval process if the railroad has “encountered technical or programmatic challenges, is demonstrating due diligence, has included milestones and metrics for sustained and substantial progress toward positive train control system implementation,” and set the date that would require installation and radio spectrum acquisition of no later Dec. 31, 2018, according to a summary of the bill.

The railroads' updated plans would be posted on the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) website. They also would have to update those plans annually.

According to Thune, the new legislation will be combined with other bills from other committees to create one surface transportation reauthorization bill.

FRA responds to NTSB recommendations

Meanwhile, the FRA has begun a formal process regarding installation of outward- and inward-facing audio/video cameras inside the cabs of trains to monitor the actions of engineers, an agency spokesman said in response to an NTSB recommendation.

The NTSB, which is investigating the May 12 Amtrak train derailment, earlier this week recommended that Amtrak install the devices in all of its trains. In a letter to the FRA, the board also reiterated earlier recommendations it had made that called for the use of recorders in trains.

In response to the NTSB's letter, an FRA spokesman released this statement: "The Federal Railroad Administration strongly agrees with the NTSB's recommendation for outward- and inward-facing cameras. In fact, after months of preliminary work with the Railroad Safety Advisory Committee, we began the formal process to make this a rule last month. In the coming weeks, FRA will announce a series of proposals to reduce accidents caused by human error that the Acting Administrator [Sarah Feinberg] discussed before Congress last month."

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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