GAO Reports Says 7 to 19 Commuter Railroads Won’t Meet PTC Deadline, Qualify for Waiver

Two-thirds of U.S. commuter railroads are likely to miss the Dec. 31 deadline to install positive train control, the Government Accountability Office said in a report released on Wednesday.

The GAO report said under the current law those transit agencies may not be eligible for a deadline extension, either.

Seven to 19 U.S. commuter railroads have not given their workers enough time to complete six milestones required by the Federal Railroad Administration to qualify for waivers for full positive train control operation.

That waiver allows a railroad that is required to have PTC in place by Dec. 31 to get an extension of up to Dec. 31, 2020. The six milestones are:

•Installing all necessary PTC system hardware.
•Acquiring all necessary radio spectrum.
•Completing the required employee training.
•Submitting to the FRA an alternate implementation schedule.
•Certifying that a railroad will comply with the law according to the alternative schedule.
•Operating a revenue service demonstration on at least one territory where PTC will be required.

The latter requirement is causing the biggest problems for commuter railroads, the GAO report said, because it can take one to three years from the beginning of field tests, during which trains are not relying on PTC systems, but are connected to the systems, to the start of revenue demonstrations.

Seven commuter railroads can’t begin testing until June, which leaves them at risk of failing to qualify for a waiver.

The report does not name the railroads that are likely to miss the PTC deadline.

As for why the railroads are struggling to comply with the law, the GAO report cited a variety of factors, including a lack of expertise, scheduling difficulties, lack of coordination between host railroads (often Class I freight railroads) and commuter lines, as well as FRA’s capacity to handle the work load.

The GAO recommended that the FRA create a standard way to send information to railroads on deadline extension criteria and processes.

It also suggested that the FRA set up a priority system for how it will allocate personnel and resources to process an expected increase in paperwork that railroads submit, as well as assist those railroads that need technical assistance.

Thus far, the FRA has been releasing information in informal ways, including presentations at industry conferences and webinars, rather than through formal, published documents.

The GAO found that the FRA has only 12 staffers who have the skills needed to review the PTC paperwork submitted by the railroads.

An FRA spokesperson told Trains magazine that it plans to hold meeting with executives of all 41 railroads required to have PTC installed this year to assess their challenges and implementation plans.

Information gleaned from those meetings will be used to conduct oversight of railroads’ PTC activities.

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