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A group of Democratic senators are calling on Senate leaders to take a "comprehensive approach" in considering an extension of the Dec. 31 federal deadline for railroads to implement positive train control (PTC) safety technology.In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.), the seven Democrats called for a three-year extension of the PTC deadline, swift Senate confirmation of key nominees at the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), and federal investment in rail safety and infrastructure needs.Dated Oct. 8, the letter was signed by U.S. Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.). The letter was released by Booker's office."We believe that Congress should agree only to a responsible and comprehensive approach that holds railroads accountable for progress and addresses the looming safety issues that are a consequence of chronic underfunding of our rail infrastructure," the senators wrote.According to the letter, that comprehensive approach should include:• a PTC deadline no later than 2018. "A five-year extension as contemplated in the House proposal is unnecessarily long [and] … a blanket extension is unacceptable."• a commitment to pass rail safety provisions, including for PTC installation and related needs.• support for dedicated, long-term funding for rail. "Passenger rail should be allocated dedicated annual funding from any new revenue for infrastructure above the current baseline, as well as granted eligibility for existing surface transportation funding streams."• Senate confirmation of USDOT leadership positions, including the nominees for the administrators of the Federal Railroad Administration and Federal Transit Administration. "Without these pending nominees in place, it is more likely that PTC implementation and oversight could be stalled and plans could be unnecessarily delayed to the detriment of passengers, freight stakeholders, and railroad operators."A balanced, comprehensive approach would allow railroads more time to implement PTC, but also ensure action that would improve PTC implementation oversight, the senators’ letter concluded.
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