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Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) officials believe the Dec. 31 deadline for railroads to implement positive train control (PTC) technology is an important federal mandate that the agency intends to enforce, FRA Acting Administrator Sarah Feinberg told a congressional committee on Tuesday.Feinberg, who was testifying at a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing, said that PTC is the "single most important railroad safety technology development in more than a century," and that her agency has been working diligently to help railroads with PTC planning and execution. She has established a PTC Implementation Team that is "aggressively managing" the progress toward implementation.Although she believes Amtrak will meet its goal of completing PTC implementation along the Northeast Corridor by Dec. 31, she acknowledged that most railroads are not far enough along wit their PTC planning to meet the federal deadline.A lack of public-sector funding for PTC installation may have caused "unwanted delays" in fully implementing the technology, she said in her written testimony. As part of the Obama administration's proposed "GROW AMERICA" transportation funding proposal, the FRA is seeking $825 million to help commuter railroads meet their PTC costs, as well as additional funding for Amtrak to install PTC on its national network."Despite a lack of funding directed to commuter railroads, FRA is using the resources it has available now to assist railroads in implementing PTC," she said. For example, FRA issued a $967.1 million loan through the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) program to the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority to help pay for its PTC deployment, she noted.Recently, Congress members and other stakeholders have asked FRA to address their concerns about their ability to meet the Dec. 31 deadline. The agency has proposed that it be granted authority to review, approve and certify PTC safety plans on an individual basis to ensure that railroads are "raising the bar on safety" as they continue taking steps toward PTC implementation, Feinberg said.FRA officials are discussing internally about how the agency will enforce the Dec. 31 deadline, and what potential penalties for exceeding the deadline might be, Feinberg testified, in response to a committee member's question. Penalties could range from little enforcement all the way up to daily civil penalties, she said."Some railroads have behaved better than others," when it comes to making progress toward PTC implementation, Feinberg testified.The June 2 hearing was called to review the May 12 Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia that killed eight passengers and injured 200. The National Transportation Safety Board's investigation into the cause is continuing, but speed is considered a factor in the accident.
The train was traveling more than twice the posted speed limit when it derailed. An NTSB member said the day after the incident that he believed PTC would have prevented the accident if the technology had been activated along the track where the derailment occurred.