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Rail News: Positive Train Control

AAR to Congress: Clarity needed ASAP on PTC


With Congress back in session after the August recess, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) issued a memo yesterday to remind lawmakers that the positive train control (PTC) mandate places freight railroads in a difficult position due to the lack of an extension and the Federal Railroad Administration's (FRA) intent to issue fines for missing the Dec. 31 deadline.

The mandated deadline is "arbitrary, unworkable and unrealistic," and December 2018 would be a more realistic timeframe for full PTC implementation, plus an additional two years for nationwide testing, AAR officials said in the memo.

The deadline long has been viewed by the rail industry and PTC experts as "an impossible timeframe" since freight railroads need to equip about 60,000 miles of right of way throughout the country with the technology, they said.

With the deadline fast approaching and freight railroads "clearly unable to comply," PTC now needs to be a top-of-mind issue for Congress, AAR officials believe.

"Freight railroads obligated to install PTC face an impossible choice. On one hand, they face regulatory fines and penalties from the FRA, while on the other hand, they have legal obligations as common carriers, and may have contractual obligations to provide specific services to customers, as well," the memo states. "If they stop or reduce services to avoid being in violation of the PTC law, they may face claims or litigation related to those competing obligations to provide service."

Congress could provide clarity on the issue by passing the highway funding bill that already contains provisions to extend the PTC deadline, AAR officials believe.

To date, freight railroads have spent more than $5.7 billion to develop, test and install PTC components, according to the association.