Thursday, August 13, 2009

AAR to FRA: Stick to scope of PTC mandate

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The Association of American Railroads Thursday urged the Federal Railroad Administration to “faithfully follow the Congressional statutory mandate requiring railroads to implement positive train control (PTC) technologies across certain portions of the national freight rail network.”

Congress in 2008 passed legislation requiring U.S. freight railroads to implement PTC on certain main line tracks used for transporting passengers or toxic chemicals (TIH) by Dec. 31, 2015. But, AAR says, FRA's proposed rule would impose a financial burden above and beyond what Congress intended, potentially adding hundreds of millions of dollars in additional cost to the railroads as they face using private capital to pay for the federal PTC mandate.

"The railroad industry provides efficient, safe, and environmentally beneficial transportation services," said AAR Senior Vice President Safety and Operations Robert VanderClute. "By proposing substantial expenditures beyond what Congress is requiring, the proposed regulations would undermine the ability of the railroads to continue to provide the public benefits of rail."

VanderClute testified that several elements of the FRA proposed rule pose significant technical, operational, and financial challenges to the industry. Specifically, AAR objected to FRA's proposal to: (a) base PTC implementation on 2008 traffic patterns; (b) require dual displays in locomotives; and (c) allow Class II and Class III railroads to operate locomotives unequipped with PTC technology over PTC equipped tracks.

"It does not make any sense that Congress would mandate PTC for TIH routes that existed in 2008, knowing that those routes would besubject to change in the years to come," VanderClute said.  He noted FRA is aware these routes would change after 2008 due to implementation of other federal rules requiring risk assessment of the routes used for TIH.

"Given FRA's cost-benefit analysis, and the adverse consequences of extending the mandate beyond what Congress required, FRA should use Dec. 31, 2015 as the date governing the extent of the railroads' mandatory PTC obligation," he said.

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AAR also said FRA's proposed requirement for dual-displays in the locomotive could cost the industry as much as $200 million for equipmentthat would serve no additional safety purpose. 

"Simply put, the engineer operates the locomotive, and the presence or absence of a second display will have no effect on how the engineer carries out his or her responsibilities," VanderClute said. "All a second display would accomplish is to require the industry to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a screen serving no useful purpose."

AAR also questions FRA's logic surrounding its proposal to allow Class II and Class III railroads to use locomotives not equipped with PTC technology on PTC-equipped routes.  FRA was basing this proposed part ofthe rule on the assertion that the financial burden on Class II and III railroads outweighs the safety benefits.

"Surely Congress did not require Class I railroads to spend billions of dollars on PTC systems only to allow Class II and III railroads to operate trains without the technology on our tracks equipped with PTC," VanderClute said.