Rail Federal agencies

Congress asks FRA for specifics on Positive Train Control progress

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Sarah Feinberg

Washington – The Federal Railroad Administration describes the development of Positive Train Control as “the single most important safety advancement facing the rail industry today.”

FRA Acting Administrator Sarah Feinberg made this comment on April 14 during a hearing conducted by the House Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee.

Congress agrees. However, both legislators and FRA acknowledge that cost and time constraints will prevent railroads from meeting the deadline for installing PTC systems, which feature technology designed to prevent crashes and derailments caused by human error.

In 2008, Congress set a deadline of Dec. 31, 2015, for installation of the systems. But railroads have been hindered by technical glitches and government delays. On March 25, a Senate committee approved a markup bill that granted a five-year extension for the implementation of PTC systems.

During the hearing, Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. (R-TN) pressed Feinberg for specifics on progress. “Realistically, are we talking about 2018? 2020?” Duncan asked. “Do we have any idea on that?”

Feinberg said the answer varies. “Different railroads are at different stages in the process of implementation,” she said. “Some are quite close and some have a longer way to go. What we have proposed thus far and what we’re continuing to discuss internally and with members of Congress is granting railroads provisional authority to start to bring PTC online in chunks.”