Railroads Can’t Meet Deadline for Safety Equipment
In 2008, Congress passed the Rail Safety Improvement Act after a string of railroad accidents. This Act required specific railroad lines to install a technology called positive train control, or PTC, before the end of 2015. PTC are safety systems that are created to stop some kinds of collisions and derailments from ever happening by automatically slowing or stopping a train. Though they have had almost seven years to do so, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) announced in a status report that most railroads are not going to make the deadline.
The Association of American Railroads (AAR), a rail industry group, estimated that only 39% of the locomotives that are covered in the ACT will be completely outfitted with PTC by the end of this year. Furthermore, only 34% of the employees that need new training have received it. They project that by the deadline, only 76% of wayside interface units and 67% of base station radios will have been set up.
The American Public Transportation Association, an industry group, said that only 29% of commuter railroad are set to have PTC equipment installed by the deadline. Additionally, in their status report, the Federal Railroad Administration projects that all consumers lines will not be updated with the new tech until 2020.
Edward Hamberger, AAR President and CEO, said what the Act requires has to be done on such a large scale that it would be “absolutely impossible” to get it all done by the end of 2015. Any railroad missing the end of the year cut-off date could be fined pretty heavily, since they were given such a lengthy time period to get into compliance in the first place. The FRA is allowed to charge fines for each violation, each day they go unmet.
Any railroad that isn’t able to get the PTC installed by the deadline will be required to implement temporary measures that will “protect the public safety while bringing the railroads into compliance quickly, completely, and safely,” according to the report. A representative of the FRA said that the agency would attempt to get the railroad updates completed as soon as possible, starting January 1st. So far, only 3 of the 38 railroads have submitted a safety plan for review.
Though a 2014 year-end report by Union Pacific concluded two-thirds of their 6,532 locomotives had been at least partially installed with PTC, this new reports states that none of their locomotives have been equipped according to the new standards.
Norfolk Southern has at least started some of their 3,400 need updates. Susan Terpay, Norfolk Southern’s public relations director, said there are 115 locomotives now fully PTC-equipped while 2,000 are partially ready. They hope to have over 500 more completed by year end.
Of CSX Corp.’s 3,900 locomotives, not quite 21% are ready to roll. A spokeswoman for CSX, Melanie Cost, reported that almost 69% of their locomotives were partially equipped. Amtrak has almost 86% fully equipped, which includes almost 98% of their Northeast corridor locomotives that travel from Washington to Boston. Had the safety measures already been in place last May, the deaths of the 8 people killed in Amtrak’s Philadelphia crash may have been prevented. According to Christina Leeds, Amtrak’s media relations manager, they are on schedule to implement the PTC by the end of the year deadline.
While both Republicans and Democrats tried to introduce several different proposals for a deadline extension, including one that would give the passenger and freight railroads another five years to implement the PTC changes, the White House ultimately decided that the 2015 end-of-the-year deadline was going to stay.
“We agree with the Federal Railroad Administration that the December 31 deadline is important and that the Department of Transportation should enforce that deadline,” a White House official said. FRA Administrator Sarah Feinberg told Congress that the FRA supported the original deadline.