Rail Service Possibly in Danger as “Positive Train Control” Deadline Approaches 10/20/2015

Congress originally passed legislation in 2008 mandating that Positive Train Control (PTC), an advanced train control technology, be in place by December 31, 2015. This technology regulates the speed and track movements of trains to improve safety and is designed to automatically stop a train before certain accidents caused by human error. PTC will be required on rail lines used to transport passengers or toxic-by-inhalation materials.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released a report finding that most U.S. railroads will not be ready to implement the Positive Train Control (PTC) technology by the December deadline.

Proposed Legislation:

Both the House and Senate have introduced bills to extend the federal deadline. Most recently, the House introduced the Positive Train Control Enforcement and Implementation Act of 2015 (H.R. 3651) which would extend the implementation deadline to December of 2018. A recent article by Reuters reports that the U.S. House and Senate are “very close” to reaching bipartisan agreement to extend the December 31st federal deadline.

However, Frank Benenati, a White House spokesman has stated that, “Congress enacted this law, including the December 31, 2015, deadline, and we believe it is important that the Department of Transportation enforce the law that Congress passed.”

Possible Consequences If the Positive Train Control Deadline is not extended:

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) warns that Congress must “act now” to extend the PTC deadline” in order to avert the possible consequences that could be associated with certain rail services being delayed or shutdown. BNSF Railway has questioned whether or not they could legally run over lines that are mandated to be PTC equipped if the deadline is not extended. Other railways such NS and Union Pacific have also warned they would embargo TIH (Toxic inhalation hazard) shipments. If the deadline is not extended and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) begins to step in and fine railroads running freight trains, that do not have TIH materials, on PTC designated track, after the December 31st deadline then many of the major railroads have warned they will shut down.

The AAR claims that a complete rail shutdown is possible if the PTC deadline is not extended. According to them consequences of this would include:

  1. Transportation of all goods over freight rail grinds to a halt
  2. The US economy loses $30 billion
  3. Household incomes drop by $17 million
  4. 700,000 Americans lose their jobs
  5. Millions of commuters are stranded

All Railroads remain committed to implementing PTC as early as possible. Experts in the industry including the AAR are not opposed to PTC they just state that they need more time to implement. Odyssey will continue to monitor the situation and will update you on whether or not Congress passes an extension or if the deadline will be upheld.