The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation will hold a full committee hearing titled, “Passenger Rail Safety: Accident Prevention and On-Going Efforts to Implement Train Control Technology” on Wednesday, June 10, 2015, at 10:00 a.m.
Following the tragic Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia on May 12, 2015, this hearing offers an opportunity to hear testimony from expert witnesses about ongoing efforts to prevent passenger rail accidents, particularly through the use of train control technology. Witnesses have been requested to discuss the capabilities and limitations of train control technologies (including positive train control systems); the current status of the deployment and functionality of positive train control systems; and current challenges with on-going efforts to install, test, and certify positive train control systems by the December 31, 2015, statutory deadline.
- The Honorable Tho "Bella" Dinh-Zarr, Vice Chairman, National Transportation Safety Board
- Mr. Robert Lauby, Associate Administrator for Safety / Chief Safety Officer, U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Railroad Administration
- Mr. Charles Mathias, Associate Bureau Chief, Federal Communications Commission, Wireless Telecommunications Bureau
- Mr. DJ Stadtler, Executive Vice President / Chief Operations Officer, Amtrak
Wednesday, June 10, 2015
Full Committee hearing titled, “Passenger Rail Safety: Accident Prevention and On-Going Efforts to Implement Train Control Technology”
This hearing will take place in Senate Russell Office Building, Room 253. Witness testimony, opening statements, and a live video of the hearing will be available on this page.
For reporters interested in reserving a seat, please contact the press gallery:
• Periodical Press Gallery – 202-224-0265
• Radio/Television Gallery – 202-224-6421
• Press Photographers Gallery – 202-224-6548
• Daily Press Gallery – 202-224-0241
Individuals with disabilities who require an auxiliary aid or service, including closed captioning service for the webcast hearing, should contact Stephanie Gamache at 202-224-5511 at least three business days in advance of the hearing date.
Ranking Member Bill Nelson
I want to thank Chairman Thune for calling today’s hearing. Our committee has met several times to examine the need for improved rail safety. And tragically, our reason for being here today is that our rail safety efforts thus far have fallen short.
On May 12th, a speeding Amtrak train derailed in Philadelphia killing 8 and injuring more than 200 passengers. While the investigation is still ongoing, the solution is apparent: we need positive train control installed and activated as soon as possible. We have heard at length about the technical challenges that PTC presents and we will hear more about that today.
Undoubtedly, the installation of PTC is complex. However, talking about the technical challenges will not make them go away. If we want to get this technology installed quickly, then we must do more.
First and foremost, we need to make sure that we are doing everything possible to prevent further delays. We must also consider whether additional technologies or changes in operations could prevent these kinds of crashes. While we all know that positive train control is the best solution, I would like to hear today if there are other measures that can be put into place in the meantime to protect passengers.
We must also make sure that our passenger and commuter railroads have the funding they need to install PTC. According to the American Public Transportation Association, commuter railroads need between $2 – $3 billion to implement and install these systems. Instead of providing increased funding to help our commuter rail agencies, we are instead fighting just to prevent funding cuts. We need to reverse that course.
Finally, while we would like for no accidents to occur at all, we need to take steps to protect the victims when they do happen. Victims and their families ought to receive appropriate compensation, but an arbitrary cap on compensation enacted nearly two decades ago can prevent this. It is time to reevaluate the cap to ensure that victims of these crashes are adequately compensated.
Compared to other modes of transportation, rail is and will continue to be a very safe way of moving people and freight. But we have a responsibility to learn from this crash and to examine whether additional safety measures should be put into place to prevent this type of crash from happening again.
Chairman John Thune
"As Ranking Member Nelson and I noted after the tragic derailment of Amtrak Train 188 in Philadelphia last month, the victims, their families, and all those affected by the accident remain in our thoughts and prayers.
We convene today’s hearing to evaluate how we can assist railroads and passenger rail operators to prevent derailments like Amtrak 188 in the future.
"While the cause of this accident has not been officially determined, preliminary data from NTSB show that Amtrak 188 was traveling through the curve at Frankford Junction at a speed of 106 miles per hour – despite the maximum authorized speed of 50 miles per hour on that curve.
"Without question, speed was a factor in this derailment, and human error may have contributed to the excessive speed, underscoring the importance of train control technology and other strategies to address this accident risk.
"Today we will hear from a panel of experts on accident prevention and train control, focusing in particular on Positive Train Control.
"We know that Automatic Train Control, an older automatic braking technology, was in effect on the southbound tracks at Frankford Junction but not on the northbound tracks where the derailment occurred.
"Automatic Train Control protections, which are cheaper and quicker to implement than Positive Train Control systems, may have made a critical difference in the Amtrak 188 derailment and have since been implemented by Amtrak at Frankford Junction.
"Amtrak has engaged in a complete survey of the Northeast Corridor to identify and implement other necessary Automatic Train Control modifications.
While additional Automatic Train Control protections must be implemented immediately where feasible and appropriate, Positive Train Control is a more advanced, transformative safety technology that, when properly configured and fully operational, will more effectively prevent accidents.
"When it comes to more robust overspeed derailment and train-to-train collision prevention, and work zone incursion and misplaced switch protection, PTC offers critical safety benefits that are simply not achieved through any other existing technology.
"While I fully support the implementation of PTC, for years I have noted the complexity of its full implementation for both passenger and certain freight railroads.
"The mandate covers over 60,000 miles of track and over 20,000 locomotives, and the complexity is compounded by the challenges of achieving seamless interoperability across passenger and freight railroads with differing systems.
"Among other things, PTC has required the formulation of 26 new technical standards facilitating the development of new communications equipment, on-board displays, and back office servers; the acquisition and integration of radio spectrum; and the mapping of over 400,000 field assets.
"Many challenges weren’t fully understood or appreciated when PTC was mandated in 2008 following the tragic Metrolink accident in California or when railroads drafted their initial PTC implementation plans following the final implementing rule in 2010.
"The technical complexity is why, as implementation progressed, the FRA in 2012 and GAO in 2013 warned that most railroads will not meet the December 31st, 2015 statutory deadline to implement PTC.
FRA found that railroads encountered extensive and unexpected technical and programmatic challenges, and GAO found that railroads could encounter operational risks from trying to meet the deadline while components were still in development.
"That being said, railroads have made progress on implementation—over 13,000 locomotives are equipped or partially equipped, and over 8,000 signals have been replaced. Railroads have also committed significant funds; passenger railroads have spent over $1 billion, and freight railroads have spent over $5 billion. But due to the complexity and implementation challenges with PTC, the vast majority of railroads will not meet the deadline.
"As a result of this realty, the question in Congress has not been whether to extend the deadline but rather how to extend the deadline:
• Senator Feinstein, with original co-sponsors Boxer, Blumenthal, Schumer, and Gillibrand, introduced a bill (S. 1006) that would extend the deadline to 2018 on a case-by-case basis in one-year increments.
• The Administration proposes giving the Secretary of Transportation discretion to extend the deadline, with no hard end date, on a case-by-case basis. The Administration also proposes to allow the Secretary to exempt track from the PTC mandate altogether if a railroad implements alternative strategies that meet certain criteria.
• Senator Blunt, with 13 co-sponsors, 10 of which are on this committee, including me, introduced a bi-partisan bill (S. 650) that was successfully reported out of this Committee granting an extension to 2020 with case-by-case extensions for testing, certification, or extenuating circumstances for up to two additional years. As amended by Senator Blumenthal, the bill would require annual progress reports submitted to the Secretary.
"There is merit in ensuring that railroads focus their time and resources on installing and testing PTC appropriately, so that the systems work as intended, especially given the $6 billion investment to date and the great need to put that investment to use. But there is also merit in providing additional oversight to ensure expeditious implementation.
"Understanding that there is broad agreement on the need for a deadline extension, I hope Congress can soon come together on a thoughtful, revised implementation framework for this important safety technology.
"Otherwise, there could be some potentially significant effects when each railroad that cannot meet the deadline must decide whether to stop service or operate in violation of law, subject to penalties and unknown liability risk.
After December 31st, each railroad must evaluate the legality of allowing passenger operations over their tracks, and the legality of shipping toxic-by-inhalation materials that are nevertheless critical to so many parts of our economy—from ammonia for our fertilizer to chlorine for our water. Alternative modes of transportation may not be as efficient or as safe.
"In the course of our hearing today, in addition to PTC, I expect that we will discuss other noteworthy on-going safety initiatives. Without question, we must improve the safety of our nation’s passenger rail system.
"To that end, I commend Senators Wicker and Booker for their leadership on the passenger rail bill, which will be introduced later this month and has a dedicated safety title that addresses important issues. The Committee looks forward to considering their bi-partisan bill later this month."
Witness Panel 1
The Honorable Tho "Bella" Dinh-ZarrVice ChairmanNational Transportation Safety Board
Mr. Robert LaubyAssociate Administrator for Safety/Chief Safety OfficerU.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Railroad Administration
Mr. Charles MathiasAssociate Bureau ChiefFederal Communications Commission, Wireless Telecommunications Bureau
Mr. DJ StadtlerExecutive Vice President/Chief Operations OfficerAmtrak