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Railroads warn of worst-case scenario if PTC deadline is not extended

18 Sep 2015

USA: Congress must act to extend the 'unattainable' December 31 2015 deadline for the roll-out of Positive Train Control, rail industry associations reiterated in response to the release on September 16 of a Government Accountability Office report which says the Federal Railroad Administration needs to develop an adequate and comprehensive plan for overseeing progress with installation.

The GAO interviewed a representative sample of 29 railways, including the four biggest. Five expect to complete PTC installation by the deadline, 20 expect completion within five years, and three have no estimated date; one is exempt owing to limited speeds.

Problems include development complexity, supply industry and regulatory review capacity, funding and lack of access to the required radio spectrum. Concerns were expressed about interoperability, with one railway required to determine which of 260 other operators using its tracks would require PTC.

Association of American Railroads President & CEO Edward R Hamberger said 'freight rail operators have always contended that the Congressionally-mandated 2015 deadline for having PTC fully functional and being used coast-to-coast by passenger and freight rail alike was not realistic.'

Hamberger said the rail industry believes 'PTC is an extremely complex technology that requires more time to install and safely test'. The 'arbitrary' deadline set by Congress had not reflected the 'unprecedented challenges' required to deploy it on 96 000 route-km which carry passengers or certain hazardous materials. AAR expects just 14% of this total to be covered by the deadline, with 31% of locomotives equipped, 69% of wayside units and 63% of base station radios installed and 33% of 114 515 employees trained.

'Railroads are beginning to notify their customers of the possibility of an impending rail shutdown' in 'a worst-case scenario', Hamberger warned. 'Congress can't wait until November or December when the clock is about to run out. If lawmakers want to avert a massive disruption of passenger and freight transport this fall, which will inflict significant hardships on businesses and passengers alike, it must take action now to extend the deadline.'

Michael Melaniphy, President & CEO of the American Public Transportation Association which represents passenger operators, said the commuter rail industry has spent $950m on PTC, and conservative estimates say $3·48bn will be required to complete the roll-out. However Congress has only appropriated $50m. APTA also called on Congress to make the required radio spectrum available to operators. 'The time is now for Congress to act to extend the PTC deadline', said Melaniphy. 'This action is crucial to avoid the disruption of millions of Americans who rely daily on commuter rail service as they commute to and from work.'

  • Read more about the status of PTC implementation in the September issue of Railway Gazette International.