Senate passes highway bill, PTC implementation extension

By Spencer Chase

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WASHINGTON, Oct. 28, 2015 - The Senate has approved a short-term highway bill extension that included a delay in the mandated implementation of positive train control (PTC), averting a potential shutdown of rail networks across the country.

The Senate passed the legislation with unanimous consent after the House passed it yesterday. The bill funds and extends federal highway authorization through Nov. 20, giving House and Senate lawmakers time to come together on a long-term bill.

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The Senate passed a six-year bill in July, and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee reported a six-year bill out of committee last week. That bill is expected on the House floor next week.

In a joint statement Wednesday afternoon, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee chair Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and ranking member Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said they hope the House bill allows them to come up with a long-term solution.

“It is time for the House and Senate to get to conference so that we can work out our differences and get the job done now,” the lawmakers said. “There are no excuses for further delay.”

Rail companies were claiming the allotted timeline for implementation of PTC - which was originally scheduled to expire Dec. 31 - didn't allow for installation of the broad safety system throughout their networks. PTC is a safety system that allows for remote stopping and starting of trains and requires installation on both train tracks and train cars.

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In order to avoid falling out of compliance with federal law, companies that carry hazardous materials or passenger traffic said they would have to shut down traffic on lines that weren't complaint with PTC. The bill extends the implementation deadline through 2018 with benchmarks for rail companies to meet to ensure they are indeed working toward complete implementation.

The bill now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature.

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