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Association of American Railroads voices PTC concerns

09 Sep 2009

USA: The Association of American Railroads has registered objections to the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Positive Train Control, issued by the Federal Railroad Administration on July 16. According to AAR, the proposal goes beyond what was mandated by Congress, and would therefore impose unnecessary burdens on the Class I railroads in particular.

The Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 requires full operation of PTC by December 15 2015 on main line tracks used by passenger operators or for the movement of hazardous chemicals. As well as specifying how the technically-complex PTC equipment must perform, the NPRM sets out how FRA will review each railway’s PTC implementation plan before it becomes operational. When the Notice was issued, Federal Railroad Administrator Joe Szabo emphasised that FRA was ‘setting the bar high in terms of design, construction and oversight of PTC technologies.’

Responding on August 13, AAR’s Senior Vice-President, Safety & Operations, Robert VanderClute cited three sections of the NPRM which AAR believes are not required by law, and could impose significant technical, operational and financial challenges. ‘By proposing substantial expenditures beyond what Congress is requiring, the proposed regulations would undermine the ability of the railroads to continue to provide the public benefits of rail’, he warned.

The first is the proposal that PTC implementation strategies should be based on 2008 traffic patterns, although these are likely to change as the market evolves. AAR says this could result in the fitting of expensive equipment to locomotives and routes where it is no longer needed.

The second is a requirement for locomotives to be fitted with dual cab displays, which AAR says could increase PTC costs by around $200m. VanderClute believes that ‘the presence or absence of a second display will have no effect on how the engineer carries out his or her responsibilities’.

His final concern is the proposal that Class II and Class III operators should be allowed to run non-equipped trains on PTC-fitted routes, which VanderClute says was based on an ‘assertion’ by FRA that the financial burden on smaller companies would outweigh the safety benefits. ‘Surely Congress did not require Class I railroads to spend billions of dollars on PTC systems only to allow Class II and III railroads to operate trains without the technology on our tracks’.

Testifying to the US House of Representatives’ Ways & Means Subcommittee on July 23, Norfolk Southern Chief Executive Wick Moorman said PTC implementation would cost between $5bn and $7bn, whereas only $50m had been allocated in RSIA to support the programme. Speaking on behalf of AAR, he argued that that Congress should introduce tax incentives to encourage rail infrastructure investment. Noting that the industry would need to invest $148bn to cope with projected growth in demand for rail freight movement by 2035 (excluding the PTC spending), he suggested that each $1bn of investment induced by tax incentives would generate around 20 000 jobs.