Implementation schedule for safety system could halt rail service

By Spencer Chase

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Sept. 15, 2015 - If the current deadline for implementing one of the biggest changes ever in railroad safety systems is not adjusted, some rail companies have told Capitol Hill to expect service interruptions.

In letters to Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune, R-S.D., major rail carriers say they may not be able to legally continue to provide service due to their incomplete implementation of positive train control (PTC), a safety mechanism meant to monitor and control train movements remotely.

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The current deadline for complete PTC implementation is December 31, and none of the Class I railroads, the seven largest rail companies in the nation, say they will be able to have it installed across their fleet by the end of the year. Therefore, they are calling on Congress to push back the implementation deadline.

In a letter to Thune, BNSF Railway President and CEO Carl Ice said his company, the largest rail provider in the country, “has serious questions whether it should operate on subdivisions that have not been equipped with PTC in knowing violation of the federal law that mandated PTC as of January 1, 2016.”

Keith Creel, president and chief operating officer of Canadian Pacific Railway, touched on the integrated nature of the rail system, saying in his letter that “if Congress does not act, actions that the individual rail carriers might take such as embargoing or rerouting traffic, have the potential to interfere with the fluid operation of the network.”

In an e-mail to Agri-Pulse, a spokesperson for Union Pacific Railroad said that without an extension of the PTC implementation deadline, “neither passenger traffic nor chemicals Americans need and use every day . . . will move on the Union Pacific system by the end of 2015.”

“We remain hopeful that Congress will pass a PTC deadline extension,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “With 10,000 customers across nearly every industry relying on us to deliver products, we are aware that any change in our operating practices would have wide reverberations across the country.”

The Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 mandated the installation of PTC across most Class I rail lines by the end of 2015. According to the Federal Railroad Administration, PTC is supposed to be installed on lines carrying 5 million or more gross tons every year, lines that handle any poisonous-inhalation-hazardous materials, or any lines with “regularly scheduled intercity passenger or commuter rail services.” Implementation was expected to reach across 70,000 miles of track.

Agricultural traffic in the rest of 2015 and early 2016 will be carrying grain from the 2015 harvest and fertilizer for the 2016 crop.

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