Congress should extend the timeline for a costly crash-avoidance technology mandate because most of the railroads won’t meet the end of 2015 deadline, the Federal Railroad Administration recommended this week.
Freight railroads are required to implement positive train control on lines that carry passengers at a cost of roughly $12 billion, despite claiming the technology provides little safety improvements for the cost. Congress pushed for the mandate after a commuter train and a freight train crashed, killing 25 people in Los Angeles in 2008.
In a report to Congress, the FRA said freight and passenger railroads have had difficulty in implementing PTC, largely because of the lack of needed hardware and software. The railroads have raised and spent more than $1.5 billion in private capital to meet the mandate, and the government has given $50 million toward the initiative.
“FRA and the railroads are also working identify any additional issues and solution; however, this effort it hampered by the novel nature of the issues,” according to the report. “PTC implementation, on the scale required by the (Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008), has never been attempted anywhere in the world.”
The agency suggested Congress allow railroads to use installed partial PTC systems before the final networks are in place, and alternative safety technologies should be used until the full systems are implemented.
A proposal to extend the PTC deadline never made it in the final version of the recently passed surface transportation bill. Although the railroads have whittled down the PTC requirements, the costs of implementation have expanded.