Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Railroads to miss PTC deadline, threaten shut-down

Dr. John Tunn, FRA

Railroads warn they will miss deadline for safety system, stopping cargo in its tracks

WASHINGTON — Railroads are pushing Congress to extend a deadline for installing safety technology on trains that carry cargo as well as commuters, warning that oil, gasoline and other goods moved by rail could be stopped in their tracks without extra time.

At issue is Positive Train Control, a communications system that is meant to coordinate the movement of trains nationwide, preventing collisions and derailments. Congress mandated railroads use the technology in 2008, after a commuter train’s fatal crash in California killed 25 people.

But most U.S. railroads are on track to miss a Dec. 31 deadline for adopting the complex technology.
Some safety advocates say the industry has moved too slowly to roll out PTC, more than four decades after federal accident investigators first recommended such train control systems.

But installing the vast satellite-based system across multiple railroads — and ensuring the trains, towers and signaling boxes effectively communicate with each other — has proved challenging. Some PTC components had not been developed before Congress mandated the system. And delays were exacerbated by a 13-month federal moratorium on the installation of new communication poles in rights of way to transmit radio signals.

“You cannot purchase PTC systems off the shelf at Best Buy,” said Michael Melaniphy, president of the American Public Transportation Association, which is pushing Congress for more time. Otherwise, Melaniphy warned reporters Monday, “there will be a transportation crisis in this country with severe economic consequences.”...

..... That crude-by-rail traffic and the transportation of other commodities “could grind to a standstill” without at least three more years to install the system — and up to two more years for testing and validating it — said the association’s president, Ed Hamberger.

Major U.S. freight railroads, including BNSF, CSX and Norfolk Southern, have said they will shut down many operations on Dec. 31 to comply with the deadline and avoid hefty fines for flouting it. Because railroads will begin shutting down services weeks earlier, they need a clear signal from Congress before the end of October, Hamberger said.

Norfolk Southern says major coal export terminals, chemical complexes, crude oil receivers and power plants likely would lose service.....  more here


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