FRA prepared to levy penalties for non-PTC compliance

Written by Mischa Wanek-Libman, Editor, Railway Track & Structures; and Engineering Editor, Railway Age

Positive Train Control (PTC) was again in the spotlight this week, as the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee's Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials held a hearing June 24 on "The State of Positive Train Control in the United States."

During his opening statement, Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA), chairman of the subcommittee, called the implementation of PTC a “daunting undertaking” and said it was “one of the most complex and costly safety mandates ever undertaken by the railroad industry.” Rep. Denham also recognized the technology’s complexities and delays caused by the Federal Communication Commission’s review process to approve PTC pole installation. He said the hearing focused on how long PTC implementation across the country will take and what will happen should that deadline not be met.

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) estimates freight railroads have spent $5.7 billion to date on PTC on their way to $9 billion spent on full deployment. According to AAR, the railroads project that installation of PTC will happen by Dec. 31, 2018 with an additional two years of testing needed before PTC is fully operational nationwide.

There are two pieces of legislation on the table to extend the PTC deadline from 2015 to 2018 and2020, depending on the bill. However, both were introduced prior to the Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia last May, which some industry insiders believe changed regulators feelings toward the PTC deadline.

As far as what will happen should railroads not be in compliance with the mandate, Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Acting Administrator Sarah Feinberg said the FRA is prepared to enforce civil monetary penalties beginning Jan. 1, 2016, between $2,500 and $25,000 per violation per day.

Feinberg said the penalties are “designed to bring railroads that are in violation of the deadline into compliance with the law as soon as safely possible.” She also stumped for additional authorities that would be granted to FRA under the proposed GROW AMERICA Act “that would address the safety gap that will exist for many railroads between Jan. 1, 2016 and full PTC implementation.”

Those would include granting FRA authority over PTC systems and their operation under controlled conditions before final system certification is complete and authorize the FRA to require railroads use of alternative safety technologies on specified line segments in lieu of PTC until it can be fully implemented. “These interim requirements will likely be costly to railroads, but FRA believes they will save lives while bridging the gap to successful PTC implementation,” Feinberg said.

To access the T&I Committee’s hearing page, which has a video of the entire proceedings as well as downloadable PDFs of all written testimony provided by Sarah Feinberg, Acting Administrator, FRA; Charles Mathias, Associate Bureau Chief, Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, U.S. Federal Communications Commission; Frank Lonegro, Vice President- Service Design, CSX Transportation; Donald Orseno, Executive Director and CEO, Metra Commuter Railroad; and Russell Kerwin, Deputy Project Manager, PTC, Metrolink/AECOM , click HERE.

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