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Rail News: Positive Train Control

PTC: Freight railroads, FCC agree to resolve issues involving previously constructed facilities

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced yesterday that it had entered into an agreement with the seven Class I railroads to address the pre-May 31, 2013, construction of positive train control (PTC) facilities that may not have undergone the statutorily required environmental and historic preservation review.

The result? Freight roads can start using nearly 11,000 previously constructed poles for testing and other PTC preparatory activities.

Under the memoranda of understanding, the Class Is have agreed to create a $10 million "Cultural Resource Fund" to provide funding directly to Tribal Nations and State Historic Preservation Offices to support cultural and historic preservation projects; a neutral third-party administrator will administer the fund. Each railroad also committed to training train its employees on environmental and historic preservation compliance, and to building working relationships with Tribal Nations, according to the FCC.

Meanwhile, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation on May 16 voted to approve a "Program Comment" that modifies the FCC’s usual procedures for historic preservation review. The process outlined is "tailored to the unique circumstances surrounding the deployment of PTC facilities, and provides a mechanism for timely review by all parties," the FCC release reads.

"I am pleased that we have reached an agreement with the freight rail industry that will resolve the siting issues for one-third of the PTC poles while providing substantial resources to Tribal Nations and States to support and advance historic preservation," said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.

On May 19, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) issued a statement of its own regarding the FCC process to review PTC antennas:

"The freight rail industry believes the resolution proposed by the Federal Communications Commission and revised by Advisory Council on Historic Preservation for how to process and review the tens of thousands of communications poles and towers needed for Positive Train Control to operate is a positive step forward," the statement reads. "However, the fact of the matter is that development of this process has delayed PTC implementation for more than a year and put the railroads even further behind in implementing the nationwide interoperable PTC network.
"Under Chairman Wheeler’s leadership, a path forward has been identified and the railroads remain committed to doing all that is required to make PTC the nationwide, interoperable safety system Congress mandated. It is important to note, however, that despite the establishment of a process for reviewing PTC poles and towers for installation, an interoperable PTC system will not be seamlessly operating coast to coast by the 2015 deadline."  

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More News from 5/20/2014