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Blumenthal: Railroads should not get extension to install PTC

On January 2, Digital Journal reported that as of Dec. 31, only four of the nation’s railroads had fully implemented positive train control (PTC) systems to prevent train accidents, according to the U.S. Transportation Department.

The technology – called positive train control – can prevent collisions and derailment – and involves installing the equipment on locomotives and the tracks. The system then communicates information about the train’s speed as well as the position of the train and track switches.

Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal.

Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal.

No more extensions
Connecticut Democrat Senator Richard Blumenthal, who sits on the Senate Transportation Committee, is saying enough is enough.

“I absolutely despise and oppose that two-year extension because it is another—probably second or third for most of those railroads—and it puts a passenger’s safety at severe risk,” Blumenthal told WCBS 880.

Blumenthal feels that the railroads have had enough time and extensions to install the life-saving technology. After being introduced in September 2008, Congress had to give the railroads their first extension, setting December 31, 2015, as the first extension deadline for installation.

However the railroads needed another extension, and 2018 was granted. After dozens of railroads failed to install the braking system by December 31, 2018, it has been extended once more to 2020.

“The Federal Railway Administration has to hold these railroads accountable, shorten the extension and impose fines of $28,000 a day if necessary to compel them to meet those deadlines,” Blumenthal said.

On Friday, Blumenthal called on Congress to deny any further extensions to the 37 railroads that missed the 2018 target. Perhaps no one has given it much thought, but the partial federal government shutdown could have some severe implications for the railroads’ financial situations. And this raises real concerns over safety.

“The Trump shutdown has vast far-reaching consequences, one of them is to hamper and handicap the Federal Railroad Administration in imposing deadlines for positive train control which is very deeply unfortunate but the delays in implementing this system should not be excused by the shutdown,” Blumenthal said.

“These railroads had years, literally years, to implement this life-saving technology, there’s nothing novel or new about it.”

Amtrak has not played fair
Back in October 2015, with the December 31 deadline for installation of the Positive Train Control technology coming up fast, Amtrak Chairman Joseph Boardman sent a letter to the Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune, R-S.D.

Rescuers gather around a derailed carriage of an Amtrak train in Philadelphia  Pennsylvania  on May ...

Rescuers gather around a derailed carriage of an Amtrak train in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on May 13, 2015
Jewel Samad, AFP

In the letter, Boardman warns lawmakers Amtrak would suspend parts of its national service in December if Congress does not extend a year-end deadline on the installation of advanced safety technology. The letter also outlined the company’s efforts to install Positive Train Control (PTC) that would improve rail safety.

Interestingly, in October 2015, only three railroads had submitted required safety plans to the government, a step before PTC is operational. The three railroads include BNSF Railway, the nation’s second largest freight railroad, and two commuter railroads — Metrolink in the Los Angeles area, and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority in the Philadelphia area.

It was unfortunate that on May 12, 2015, an Amtrak crash killed eight people and injured about 200 others. Investigators determined that if PTC had been operational, the crash could have been avoided. This is one possible reason Amtrak decided to use threats to get its extension, which, by the way, it did get.

This is what Boardman’s letter said: “Should Congress fail to pass legislation to extend the PTC deadline beyond December 31, 2015, there will be significant impacts to our service and on our customers and tenant railroads. The potential impacts would also be substantial since a vast majority of our network would be inoperable without an extension of the deadline.”

Written By

Karen Graham is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for environmental news. Karen's view of what is happening in our world is colored by her love of history and how the past influences events taking place today. Her belief in man's part in the care of the planet and our environment has led her to focus on the need for action in dealing with climate change. It was said by Geoffrey C. Ward, "Journalism is merely history's first draft." Everyone who writes about what is happening today is indeed, writing a small part of our history.

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