By Keith Laing – 07/06/15 05:37 PM EDT
A group of Democrats from Illinois are pushing Congress to increase funding for the installation of a system to automate the nation’s trains after a deadly Amtrak crash in May.
Railroads currently have until Dec. 31 to install the positive train control (PTC) system, which regulates the speed and track movements of trains, under a law passed in the aftermath of a 2008 commuter rail crash in California.
They have complained that the deadline is an unfunded mandate, however, and some Republicans had pushed to move it back before the Amtrak crash in May.
Sen. Dick Durbin and Reps. Mike Quigley and Dan Lipinski, all Democrats, said Monday during an appearance at a station on Chicago’s Metra commuter railway that the deadline should be left alone and Congress should boost funding for it.“Metra has more track than any commuter rail system in the country and 150,000 passengers daily. Positive Train Control is critical to the safety of these passengers,” Durbin said in a statement after the appearance.
“But Metra – like other commuter rails across this nation – is behind in installing this technology,” he continued. “Our attempts to secure federal funding for PTC have been rejected along party lines and efforts to pass a long-term transportation bill that supports mass transit have met a similar fate.”
Prior to last month’s Amtrak crash near Philadelphia, lawmakers had sought to push back the deadline to 2020 at the behest of railroad companies.
The companies argued that the December deadline for the implementation of the PTC automated train system is too onerous to meet.
Safety groups, meanwhile, have criticized the effort to roll back the deadline, citing reports that the derailed Amtrak train was traveling 106 miles per hour as it approached a curved section of track.
The Illinois lawmakers said Monday that the Amtrak crash showed the importance of completing the installation of the automated train navigation system.
“Implementing positive train control is vitally important to ensuring that our national rail system provides the utmost level of safety for the millions of passengers that use our passenger railroads each year. But the scary thing is that our nation’s commuter railroads are much farther behind on implementation than Amtrak,” Quigley said in a statement.
“Congress has mandated this important rail safety technology but has refused to fund it,” he continued. “With the deadline for implementation just months away, it’s time for Congress to help our commuter railroads employ positive train control and prevent the kind of tragedies we saw on Amtrak last month.”
Lipinski agreed, saying Congress never properly funded the PTC conversion when the mandate was first passed in 2008.
“Representing a district with a vast number of passenger and freight rail lines, I have always made rail safety a top priority on the Railroad Subcommittee,” he said.
“That is why back in 2008 I included language in a bill to create the Rail Safety Technology Grant program to help railroads install life-saving positive train control more quickly,” Lipinski continued. “Unfortunately, Congress never fully-funded this program and commuter railroads like Metra have not been able to implement PTC. That is why I have joined with Rep. Quigley on a bill to reauthorize the grant program and to work together so that Metra can get federal help to install this critical safety technology.”