The Federal Railroad Administration, in a legal settlement with the Association of American Railroads, agreed to issue new regulations that could scale back the amount of Class I rail track that must deploy expensive train-control systems to prevent collisions.
The change in stance by the FRA came on the eve of what would have been a March 7 hearing at the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., on an AAR petition to review the agency’s earlier rule that set the scope of “positive train control” requirements.
Positive Train Control news from JOC:
Senator Moves to Reduce Rail PTC Mandate
From the outset the trade group for the largest U.S. railroads and some regional lines had argued that because the FRA used a past baseline year of 2008 for which track areas must deploy collision-avoidance PTC systems, it was locking in too much track area. The 2008 law mandating PTC deployment by the end of 2015, across most of the national rail network, mainly targeted tracks that support passenger train service and carry toxic inhalation hazard chemicals, the most deadly category that can generate poison clouds in a railcar rupture.
Class I railroads have been trying to scale back their TIH cargoes, or apply tougher risk terms to such shipments to shed risk to customers and cover more of the potential rail technology costs. The PTC requirements along with other passenger train performance measures have also been a sticking point in negotiations between states, major railroads and the FRA for accords to use passenger rail grants. And many smaller railroads say they may be caught making major investments for very little such traffic.
The four largest U.S. railroads alone expect to spend nearly $1 billion this year on PTC investments. PTC requires building a network of trackside and satellite communications linked with gear on the locomotive that could allow remote control or automatic braking to take over from on-board crews if trains were on a collision course.
The settlement calls for the FRA to publish a new notice of proposed rulemaking that would eliminate the deployment mandate for tracks that do not carry TIH or passenger trains as of Dec. 31, 2015. The agency would also issue a separate proposal that spells out processes for handling PTC failures and allowing other trains to move in that event. Both rule proposals would be subject to change following public comments.
BB&T Capital Markets told clients in a March 7 notice that while the settlement would scale back the areas for the new technology “PTC is not going away, and there is still debate on how the new standards will look.” It predicted that PTC would ultimately “be limited to more specific high-traffic routes . . . and will be at least partially funded through the government.”
-- Contact John D. Boyd at email@example.com.