Freight and Passenger Rail Service May Stop by Year’s End
Some of the largest railroads in the country told lawmakers that if Congress doesn’t extend their deadline for the new imposed rail-safety systems, all passenger and freight rail service would be forced to shut down at the end of the year. Congress created the Rail Safety Improvement Act after a series of deadly crashes involving passengers and toxic chemicals. The positive train control systems are partly automated, allowing for the train to automatically slow when entering a curve if it is deemed to be traveling too fast or slow when coming upon a stop signal to avoid running past one..
The chief executives from BNSF, Union Pacific and CSX sent letters to the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, Sen. John Thune, stating the 2008 law concerning the installation of mandatory collision-avoidance systems that gave a deadline of December 2015, does not allow them any flexibility. They announced that if Congress does not allow an extension on the original deadline, they will go ahead with their plans to stop all rail service in December. “We simply don’t see another option,” the letter from Union Pacific President and CEO Lance Fritz said.
Though railroads have been given plenty of notice to install the positive train control, about 8 years, most of the commuter and freight railroads across the country will not meet the year-end deadline. Under the act, all routes that see travel from intercity passengers, commuters, and poisonous or toxic chemicals were commanded to install the safety systems.
Because of the legality involved, the railroads feel an embargo is their only option. Michael Ward, chairman and CEO of CSX wrote, “We do not, at this juncture, believe we can undertake the legal exposure that would result from continuing those operations after the statutory deadline.” On a similar note, BNSF president and CEO Carl Ice presented the potential for a major disruption. “Our legal analysis calls into question whether we legally may operate any freight or passenger service on such lines,” he wrote.
Though Amtrak stated their lines in the NorthEast will be ready by December 2015, most of Amtrak and passenger trains roll over the tracks owned by these three carriers. Both CSX and BNSF noted that they must function within the compliance of all regulations and laws that pertain to them, as written under their
contracts with Amtrak and others. A suspension of service of this magnitude would affect millions of passengers and force them to find other modes of transportation, which would in turn put stress on the rest of the nation’s industry. Much of the freight that normally ships by rail would have to be hauled by truckers, who are still working in the midst of a driver shortage.
While all three railroad petitioning for an extended deadline have made some progress installing the system, they have all met challenges. BNSF is ahead of the others two, stating that a “significant portion” of the system will be complete by the end of the year. CSX is looking at 2018 to update all their trains and finish replacing their signals. Union Pacific is the furthest behind, needing until the end of 2018 to be fully installed. Each company is estimating about a $2 billion dollar investment in order to become compliant. Locomotives will need new on-board equipment, wireless communication hardware will be installed along the track and signals must be updated.