U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., chairman of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, will convene a hearing titled, “Next Steps for Positive Train Control Implementation,” at 2:00 p.m. on Wednesday, July 31, 2019. This hearing will focus on the implementation of positive train control (PTC) and anticipated compliance with the December 31, 2020 deadline. Witnesses will discuss the current status of PTC implementation and any challenges railroads may face by the final deadline.
- The Honorable Ronald Batory, Administrator, Federal Railroad Administration
- Mr. Robert Bourg, Vice President, Strategy and Growth, Wabtec Corporation
- Mr. Jim Derwinski, Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director, Metra
- Ms. Susan Fleming, Director of Physical Infrastructure, Government Accountability Office
- Mr. Chris Matthews, Assistant Vice President, Network Control Systems, BNSF Railway
Wednesday, July 31, 2019
Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
This hearing will take place in the Hart Senate Office Building 216. Witness testimony, opening statements, and a live video of the hearing will be available on www.commerce.senate.gov.
Chairman Roger Wicker
Today’s hearing will evaluate progress on implementation of positive train control (PTC) and discuss any potential challenges in meeting the final implementation deadline of December 31, 2020. As recent Committee hearings have highlighted, PTC is an important technology that has the ability to prevent accidents, including over-speed derailments, such as the tragic derailment in DuPont, Washington in 2017, as well as preventing train-to-train collisions.
PTC Enforcement and Implementation Act, passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama in October 2015, required railroads to implement PTC by December 31, 2018, however it allowed a railroad to apply for an extension of up to 24 months if, and only if, a railroad met important milestones.
I am pleased to say that under Secretary Chao and Administrator Batory’s leadership, this framework has been faithfully implemented as of December 31, 2018, all railroads required to implement PTC by the deadline either submitted documentation to show that they met the requirements for system activation or qualified for an extension for up to two additional years to complete full implementation. As we will hear today, many railroads received such an extension. Since that December 2018 deadline, railroads have continued to make progress on PTC implementation.
This hearing provides an opportunity for updates on the current status of PTC implementation across the network and the gains that have been made since the end of last year. Witnesses should discuss how freight and passenger railroads are implementing PTC and describe the remaining work needed to achieve full implementation.
Full PTC implementation requires, among other things, that railroads be interoperable or, in other words, they must be able to operate seamlessly across tracks owned by different railroads. Achieving interoperability requires coordination across the rail industry, including between the Federal Railroad Administration, host railroads, tenant railroads, vendors and suppliers, and other stakeholders. This undertaking is particularly complex in regions of this country where multiple railroads interact.
I hope witnesses will provide an update on interoperability testing and any successes or challenges identified through such testing. I also invite our expert witnesses to discuss any suggestions they have for further facilitating interoperability throughout the network.
With the final deadline for implementation less than a year and a half away, today’s hearing will help this committee focus on any other issues that require additional attention. For instance, at past PTC hearings, we heard about challenges related to vendors and software, as well as railroads in the early stages of field testing.
So, I invite our witness to update the Committee on the availability of vendors to support PTC installation and provide testing services. Witnesses might also identify any other challenges to full implementation as the final deadline approaches.
I look forward to a robust discussion of the progress of PTC implementation. I thank all of our witnesses for appearing today.
Ranking Member Maria Cantwell
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thanks for holding this important hearing on the next steps for Positive Train Control implementation. I want to thank the panel of witnesses and we look forward to hearing your perspective on how railroads will meet that deadline of 2020 to fully implement PTC.
The importance of this life-saving technology was made abundantly clear in my state of Washington, December 2017, when the Amtrak Cascade 501 derailed around a bend near DuPont, Washington, and fell into the highway before claiming three lives and injuring 65 people. The National Transportation Safety Board investigation found that PTC would have prevented this tragedy, but sadly this is just one of many PTC-preventable tragedies. In fact, since the National Transportation Safety Board first recommended Positive Train Control implementation, PTC could have prevented over 150 different crashes, and many fatalities and injuries.
So I’m pleased that Chairman Wicker shares my commitment to making sure that 2020 is a full PTC implementation deadline, and that this committee takes its oversight role seriously when it comes to Positive Train Control. It’s unacceptable that in the year of 2019 we still have not fully implemented this important safety, and even when PTC has been fully implemented, according to the Federal Railroad Administration, there will still be miles of tracks that have not been part of PTC. They will be exempted, including over 1,400 miles of track used by Amtrak.
Both the NTSB and Amtrak expressed concerns about this during a previous committee hearing last month, and we followed up that hearing to seek more information from FRA about the safety measures that should be in place where PTC is not operational. This include speed limit action plans, adequate crew training, and PTC equivalent technologies. I want to thank Administrator Batory for the FRA response sent to my letter, and for your commitment to ensuring safety everywhere that Amtrak operates. This will help prevent another DuPont, Washington accident from happening again.
Even with PTC in place, we have to continue to prioritize safety. No technology is a cure-all, or a complete replacement for well-trained engineers and conductors who have strong safety cultures at a railroad, and for the track maintenance and the structurally-sound railroad cars that are needed. That said, implementing PTC is truly a major step forward for safety, and I know it has been a long time coming to get where we are today.
Railroads, and especially commuter railroad systems, have faced many challenges, so I look forward to the opportunity to hear from the witnesses about the steps to have PTC fully implemented everywhere, and to make sure it is required on our national rail system. And, look forward to asking specific questions about that implementation and the 1,400 miles of track that won’t be covered.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Witness Panel 1
The Honorable Ronald BatoryAdministratorFederal Railroad Administration
Mr. Robert BourgVice President, Strategy and GrowthWabtec Corporation
Mr. Jim DerwinskiChief Executive Officer and Executive DirectorMetra
Ms. Susan FlemingDirector of Physical InfrastructureGovernment Accountability Office
Mr. Chris MatthewsAssistant Vice PresidentNetwork Control Systems, BNSF Railway