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Feinberg: FRA Must Enforce PTC Deadline

FRA Acting Administrator Sarah Feinberg said that safe rail systems require PTC’s full implementation in testimony she provided at a June 24 hearing of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, chaired by Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA).

“FRA will enforce the Dec. 31, 2015, deadline for implementation, as mandated by Congress. If PTC is not fully implemented by Jan. 1, 2016, we can and should expect there to be accidents in the months and years to follow that PTC could have prevented,” Feinberg said, calling PTC “arguably the single most important railroad safety technological development in more than a century.”

Feinberg added that FRA does not have the authority to extend the deadline. Congress would have to pass legislation doing so.

Feinberg also said that starting Jan. 1, 2016, FRA will impose penalties on railroads that have not fully implemented PTC. “Fines will be based on FRA’s PTC penalty guidelines, which establish different penalties depending on the violation. There are many potential ­violations, such as $15,000 to $25,000 fine for failure to equip locomotives.

“The penalties may be assessed per violation, per day and might be raised or lowered depending on mitigating or aggravating factors. The total amount of penalty each railroad faces will depend upon the amount of implementation progress the railroad has made.”

She noted that FRA will also use enforcement tools to ensure rail systems implement PTC on “the fastest schedule possible,” including emergency orders, additional civil penalties and compliance orders and agreements, among others.

Several subcommittee members expressed concern at the hearing that fines would be counterproductive to PTC implementation.

She also noted that many rail system officials have stated publicly that numerous significant challenges remain in implementation, adding that the GROW AMERICA Act proposes that “Congress provide FRA with additional authorities that would address the safety gap that will exist for many railroads between Jan. 1, 2016, and full PTC implementation. The department requested these new authorities to allow FRA to review, approve and require interim safety measures for individual railroads that may fail to meet the PTC deadline.”

Donald Orseno, executive director/­chief executive officer of Metra in ­Chicago, also testified at the hearing, citing progress in implementing PTC but noting the specific challenges facing his commuter rail system, which operates seven different types of locomotives and cab cars.

Among those challenges is “the ­limited number of firms that can ­provide signal design services and the limited expertise available to accelerate design and deployment,” said Orseno, also chair of the APTA Commuter Rail Committee.

“There is also the need for every railroad’s system to be interoperable with other railroads. That is a huge challenge in Chicago, which has a complicated railroad network” and is “the only commuter rail agency in the United States with such a high level of integration with freight railroads.”

Regarding costs, Orseno said implementation may cost Metra more than $350 million, funded “using the same federal and state sources that we use for other critical infrastructure projects.” He said Metra is currently targeting 2019 for PTC to be fully implemented and interoperable.

The Southern California Regional Rail Authority (Metrolink) is operating PTC in revenue service demonstration across the 341 miles of rail the system owns and intends to be in compliance by the end of the year, ­Russell Kerwin, deputy project manager of PTC for the authority, testified before the subcommittee.

“Full build-out and testing of Metrolink’s PTC infrastructure was completed over the past five years,” he said, “including PTC onboard equipment installed and tested on all 109 locomotives and cab cars, all antennas, wayside interface units and PTC radios are installed and operational, a robust communication network is installed and a new hardened Dispatch and Operations Center was constructed and is now operational.”

Kerwin also noted that Metrolink is working with its rail partners—BNSF, UPRR, Amtrak and North County Transit District—to ensure implementation of PTC throughout the region.

Denham provided introductory remarks. “From the beginning, the PTC mandate was going to be a daunting undertaking,” he said. “Consider that when completely implemented, PTC will require 38,000 wayside interfaces, 18,000 locomotives to be upgraded and 12,000 signals will need to be replaced.”

Find More
APTA has communicated on several occasions that funding and spectrum acquisition are the chief barriers to PTC implementation. Learn more at www.apta.com.

For copies of all testimony, go to http://transportation.house.gov/ and search on the name of the subcommittee.

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