PTC Political Circus, Act (fill in the blank)

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
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House Railroad Subcommittee Chair Jeff Denham (R-Calif.)

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Railroad Subcommittee has scheduled yet another pointless, time-consuming “status review” hearing on PTC. The people actually doing the implementation work—railroads, suppliers, consultants, FRA—get to spend another day getting peppered with pointless questions from clueless politicians who obviously don’t bother reading reports or doing basic research, and delight in wasting valuable people’s valuable time to prop up their huge egos and give the appearance of actually doing something useful.

On Sept. 13, the Subcommittee “will examine the progress railroads have made and the remaining [problems] to meeting the December 2018 PTC implementation [interim] deadline.” The hearing is titled “The State of Positive Train Control Implementation in the United States.” Testifying will be Federal Railroad Administrator Ron Batory, National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt, Government Accountability Office Physical Infrastructure Team Director Susan Fleming, Amtrak Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Scot Naparstek, Association of American Railroads President and CEO Ed Hamberger, Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority General Manager Jeff Knueppel (on behalf of the American Public Transportation Association), and Altamont Corridor Express Executive Director Stacey Mortensen.

Just smile, folks. Give your testimony, try to answer the questions as best you can, and ignore the chest-thumping proclamations from Subcommittee Chair Jeff Denham (R-Calif.). He’s the guy who publicly said he was “staring down the railroads” following the last PTC hearing.

Yeah, OK.

Of course, Democrats are equally adept as Republicans at putrefying PTC with politics. Earlier this year, the Ranking Members of the House T&I, Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), and the Railroads Subcommittee, Michael Capuano (D-Mass.), sent Ron Batory a long-winded letter “warning the [FRA] against issuing exemptions that allow railroads to avoid implementation of life-saving PTC technology. Exemptions to the PTC mandate were not authorized by Congress, but were included in the FRA’s implementing regulations.”

To give you an idea of just how deep misinformation can go, consider this excerpt from the Ranking Members’ letter:

“As you are aware, the NTSB has recommended that the railroads implement PTC for nearly 50 years. Since 1969, the NTSB has investigated 153 PTC-preventable accidents that resulted in approximately 300 fatalities and 7,000 injuries.”

Good God. What type of funny cigarettes were (or are) these people smoking?

Saying that the NTSB “has recommended that the railroads implement PTC for nearly 50 years” and that “since 1969, the NTSB has investigated 153 PTC-preventable accidents that resulted in approximately 300 fatalities and 7,000 injuries,” is inaccurate, misleading and downright idiotic. The term “Positive Train Control” didn’t exist until the early 1990s. While such technologies as cab signaling and automatic train stop have been around for nearly 100 years, they should not be confused with PTC, whose origins, at least in the U.S., were with Burlington Northern’s ARES and AAR’s ATCS programs. The NTSB first added “Positive Train Separation” (PTS) to its “Most Wanted” list of transportation safety improvements in 1990. FRA coined the term PTC in a 1994 Report to Congress; NTSB picked it up immediately thereafter.*

I’ve said it before many times, but it’s always worth repeating: Politics should not be involved in safety. The PTC legislation was enacted 10 years ago (Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008). Why engage in politics at this stage of the game? What is the agenda here? Who or what is behind this?

It’s just more political posturing, and it serves no purpose.

*Excerpt from the FRA 1994 Report to Congress:

Terminology and Objectives
Positive train control. This report uses the term “positive train control” or “PTC” to refer to highly capable technologies for preventing train accidents and casualties. PTC is preferred for this purpose over positive train separation (PTS), “advanced train control systems,” Advanced Train Control Systems (ATCS), or other possible formulations. The term “positive train separation” is very useful to denote collision avoidance, but it is not sufficiently broad. Next-generation train control systems should be capable of keeping trains apart, but they should also be capable of preventing violation of permanent and temporary speed restrictions, including restrictions that protect roadway workers and their equipment. Further, the “PTS” acronym has now been adopted for a specific test bed application.


Categories: C&S, Class I, Commuter/Regional, Freight, High Performance, Intercity, Passenger, PTC, Regulatory, Short Lines & Regionals Tags: ,