Washington, D.C. – A new report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) finds that most U.S. railroads will not be able to implement Positive Train Control (PTC) technology by the current December 31, 2015, deadline, and that legislation extending the deadline is necessary.
The GAO found that freight and commuter railroads continue to face significant challenges in implementing PTC, and that most railroads interviewed would need one to five years to complete implementation. The GAO also found that Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) oversight of implementation was insufficient to properly monitor individual railroads’ progress, and the GAO recommended that FRA improve its oversight by developing a plan to hold railroads accountable for making progress on PTC.
Senate and House committee leaders, including House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) and Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.), requested today’s GAO report.
“This GAO report confirms that the PTC mandate is not achievable, and extending the deadline is essential to preventing significant disruptions of both passenger and freight rail service across the country,” Shuster said. “I am committed to working with Senator Thune and our colleagues to address the clear need for an extension, and to ensuring that railroads implement this important but complicated safety technology in a responsible manner.”
“Passenger and freight railroads need time beyond the current deadline to finish implementation of a complex system that relies on new technology,” said Thune. “Failure to extend this legal deadline would create significant hardships for customers and passengers who rely on railroads. Passing an extension that includes meaningful accountability for PTC implementation is the best thing Congress can do to enhance safety and avert a chaotic situation that would hurt our economy much more than the recent West Coast ports backup.”
In 2008, Congress mandated that freight railroad lines carrying certain hazmats, passenger railroads, and commuter railroads implement the new, complex PTC technology on an unprecedented scale.
According to the GAO report, railroads have faced numerous challenges in meeting the deadline:
- The need to design, produce, and install over 20 new major components;
- A limited number of manufacturers for those components;
- Multiple phases of testing and system integration necessary to ensure safety;
- Attempting to meet the current deadline before defects are identified and addressed;
- Difficulty in obtaining radio spectrum and Federal Communication Commission (FCC) permits for communications infrastructure;
- Delays in approval of safety plans by regulators; and
- The complex challenge of achieving interoperability among varying types of PTC systems – even railroads that will be able to install PTC on their own tracks by December 31, 2015 will face interoperability issues with other railroads.
The full GAO report can be read here.
The Senate included an extension of the PTC deadline in surface transportation legislation it passed earlier this year. The Obama Administration has also found the deadline to be unworkable and has requested an extension.
Earlier this month, the Chairman of the Surface Transportation Board noted in a letter that a failure to pass a PTC extension could create service issues for rail customers.