House Committee Lays Down Law on PTC Laggards

The railroad industry was put on notice Thursday that it will meet the Dec. 31 deadline to install positive train control or suffer the consequences.

The message was given by members of the House of Representatives’ Transportation and Infrastructure Committee during a hearing to review progress on implementing PTC systems.

“The American public is tired of excuses. It’s life-saving technology, but it’s also very complex. We want to get it done quickly, by this deadline, but we also want to get it done right,” said Jeff Denham of California and chairman of the T&I subcommittee that oversees railroads.

Presiding over the hearing, Denham said there have been too many deaths that PTC could have prevented.

“It’s not going to solve all of our challenges but as all in the industry agree, it moves our industry to the next level,” Denham said.

The ranking Democrat on the committee, Michael Capuano of Massachusetts, said the committee was trying to be reasonable, noting that Congress agreed nearly three years ago to extend the original December 2015 deadline to December 2018.

“But 2018 is real and there is not a single person [on the committee] who’s going to quietly accept the next accident after that deadline,” he said.

The two-hour hearing reviewed technological and policy issues that the railroad industry faces in implementing PTC.

Under prodding from committee members, Federal Railroad Administration Acting Deputy Administrator Juan D. Reyes III said his agency has met with 41 railroads since the first of the year and would soon be making comments on the implementation plans the railroads have submitted.

Denham said that although some carriers have put PTC in place quickly some have yet to begin. “We are well aware there are some that will never get there by the end of the year,” Denham said.

However, some of those who have been slow to respond have not started, have failed thus far to ask for an extension and haven’t sought some of the $31 billion in low-cost Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing loans available for PTC implementation.

In particular, committee members from New Jersey and New York were critical of the lack of progress by New Jersey Transit.

Reyes said the FRA has begun fining railroads that had not kept pace with their implementation plans, calling that “a shot across the bow to tell them we’re serious and  . . . we’re going to push them to get this implemented.”

Denham said he supported in principle a bill sponsored by Capuano and U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon, that would prohibit the FRA from extending PTC deadlines beyond Dec. 31.

“This has gone on for 10 years now. It ought to be very obvious what needs to be done,” Denham said. “Safety is first in all of our transportation, but as of late there have been too many accidents, and we can do better.”

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