Are the Railroads Ready for Positive Train Control?
We have heard a plenty of talk about Positive Train Control in recent years, primarily how the railroads have delayed implementation of this safety system and how it would have prevented fatal crashes that occurred without it.
The latest deadline for PCT is the end of this year, but there are already signs of railroads struggling to implement the system and seeking further extensions to an improvement that was originally backed by Congress a decade ago.
In late 2015, Congress extended the deadline for Positive Train Control implementation by more than three years to Dec. 31, 2018, with a potential extension to Dec. 31, 2020, if a railroad completed the necessary statutory requirements necessary to obtain an extension, stated the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).
The legislation required all railroads to submit a revised PTC Implementation Plan (PTCIP) by Jan. 27, 2016, outlining when and how railroads would have a system fully installed and activated.
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) released a letter on Jan. 2, this year from Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao to railroads, stressing the urgency and essential nature of bringing in PTC by systems by December 31, 2018, as required by Congress.
Chao described PTC as being one of the most important safety measures on the railroads and as “critical rail-safety technology.”
U.S. Senator John Thune, who chairs the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, set a hearing called, “Implementation of Positive Train Control” on March 1 this year. He said railroad passengers expect the train companies to implement this safety technology. He referred to troubling reports that some commuter railroads are falling behind on PTC implementation.
What is Positive Train Control?
Positive Train Control is an onboard computer system that receives and analyzes data from locations on a train’s route and base-station radios along the proposed route. It gives the train’s engineer information on speed limits and potentially hazardous track conditions ahead. PTC is meant to prevent the following:
- Train-to-train collisions;
- Derailments of trains caused by high speeds;
- Trains going the wrong way due to misaligned track switches;
- Unauthorized train entry into work zones.
Could Positive Train Control Have Prevented Recent Crashes?
Many of the most serious crashes seen on trains in recent years could have been prevented by Positive Train Control.
- In February 2018, two Amtrak workers died and 116 people were injured in South Carolina when a rail switch was manually set onto a track where a CSX train was parked. The Amtrak train hit it and derailed.
- An Amtrak train that derailed in Washington State last year killing three and injuring more than 100 was equipped with Positive Train Control but the technology was not operational, according to reports. Investigators said the train was traveling 80 mph in a 30 mph limit.
Which Railroads Are Seeking Extensions on Positive Train Control?
Railroads seeking more time to implement PTC include BNSF Railway Company. BNSF announced last December that it had implemented PTC and was operating it ahead of the deadline.
However, last month the company submitted a request to the Department of Transportation for a two-year extension of the deadline to give time for non-BNSF trains operating on PTC-equipped lines to become compliant with the safety law.
Union Pacific said it ran into unanticipated issues. While PTC will be 100 percent installed on its required rail lines by the end of the year, it will only be operational on three-quarters of those lines by the deadline.
In June, New Jersey Transit NJ Transit received approval from federal regulators for a plan that could buy it another two years to complete positive train control, even though Congress required the safety system a decade ago.
The Federal Railroad Administration approved NJ Transit’s testing plan that would allow the agency to qualify for an extension to Dec. 31, 2020.
The Association of American Railroads refers to the complexities and challenges of implementing PTC.
I remain concerned at the extent the railroads are dragging their heels over implementing this vital piece of safety legislation. We have seen terrible deaths and injuries on railroads to both workers and passengers in recent years. Many of these accidents could have been prevented by PTC.
If you have been hurt working on the railroads or lost a loved one we can help. Please call our railroad accident attorneys.