The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s leadership yesterday introduced a bipartisan bill that would extend the deadline for railroads to implement positive train control (PTC) technology through the end of 2018.
The bill would extend the deadline for three years, but also allow an additional two years at the discretion of the U.S. Department of Transportation for railroads facing circumstances beyond their control.
If passed by Congress, the Positive Train Control Enforcement and Implementation Act of 2015 (H.R. 3651) would help to avert a shutdown of a significant portion of freight- and passenger-rail services on Jan. 1, 2016, the day after the current deadline.
A majority of railroads have said they will not have PTC fully operational on their systems by Dec. 31. Many railroads also have indicated they would cease operations on track that is not PTC ready in order to avoid legal ramifications for operating out of federal regulatory compliance.
Recently, a Government Accountability Office study on the issue confirmed that railroads have faced a number of challenges in implementing the complex technology, and most will not be able to meet the deadline.
“Completion of the positive train control mandate by the end of the year is not achievable, and extending the deadline is essential to preventing significant disruptions of both passenger and freight rail service across the country,” said Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), one of the bill’s sponsors. “Railroads must implement this important but complicated safety technology in a responsible manner, and we need to give them the necessary time to do so.”
While allowing an extension, the bill would also ensure that railroads will be held accountable to implement the PTC safety technology mandated by Congress, said Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee Chairman Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), also a sponsor of the bill.
“Without an extension, freight railroads will be forced to suspend shipments of certain chemicals, including some used in treating drinking water and in fertilizers; commuter railroads will need to cease operations, significantly impacting commutes in major metropolitan regions; and all Amtrak service outside of portions of the Northeast Corridor will be suspended,” Denham said.
The legislation drew praise from the railroad industry.
“The committee leadership clearly recognizes the need for immediate action to forestall the looming economic crisis that would result from widespread freight and passenger rail service disruption,” said Association of American Railroads President and Chief Executive Officer Ed Hamberger. “We look forward to working with both the House and Senate bipartisan leadership to quickly get the PTC extension across the finish line and to the president’s desk for signature.”
Representing the passenger-rail side of the industry, American Public Transportation Association President and Chief Executive Officer Michael Melaniphy had this to say: “We urge swift passage of this legislation and strongly encourage the Senate and House of Representatives to work together to reach consensus so that a commuter service shutdown can be avoided and that the commuter rail operators can focus their attention on installing PTC in a safe and effective manner.”
Meanwhile, the American Chemistry Council released a new report that assessed the economic and social impact if Congress does not extend the PTC deadline.
“The United States is staring down the tracks of an unprecedented shutdown of freight rail service that could seriously harm our entire economy unless Congress acts quickly to extend the PTC deadline,” said Cal Dooley, president and CEO of the American Chemistry Council. “A prolonged shutdown would be truly catastrophic, likely resulting in a recession. We cannot afford to let this self-inflicted crisis happen; Congress must act now.”