The U.S. Government Accountability Office has published a report on the implementation of positive train control systems, which recommended that Congress should consider amending the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 to give the Federal Railroad Administration the authority to extend the PTC implementation deadline on a case-by-case basis.
Implementation of PTC, a communications-based system designed to prevent certain types of train accidents caused by human factors, by Dec. 31, 2015, is currently a requirement under RSIA. Although most railroads are currently overlaying their existing infrastructure with PTC components, FRA and the Association of American Railroads have reported that many will not have PTC fully implemented by the 2015 deadline. Of the four major freight railroads included in GAO’s review — including BNSF Railway, Union Pacific, CSX and Norfolk Southern — only one expects to meet the deadline. The other three freight railroads reported that they expect to have PTC implemented by 2017 or later.
Most railroads reported that they will not complete PTC implementation on time because of a number of challenges, GAO said. Many PTC components continue to be in various stages of development, and in order to ensure successful integration of these components, railroads must conduct multiple phases of testing before components are installed across the network. Also, some railroads raised concerns regarding FRA’s limited staff resources in two areas: verification of field tests and timely certification of PTC systems.
FRA has requested that Congress amend RSIA to provide additional authorities in implementing PTC. Specifically, FRA requested authority to extend the deadline on certain rail lines, grant provisional certification of PTC systems and approve the use of alternative safety technologies in lieu of PTC. The Department of Transportation also reviewed a draft of the report and provided technical comments, which were incorporated.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., also recently introduced legislation to delay the PTC implementation by five years to 2021.