Rail leaders 'optimistic' about hitting train safety deadlines after federal warnings
- With just a few months to go, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) is optimistic about hitting the Dec. 31 deadline for implementing parts of the Positive Train Control (PTC) safety feature on vulnerable commuter rail systems.
- On a conference call with reporters, APTA president and CEO Paul Skoutelas said that as of June 30, 85% of on-board equipment has been installed; 79% of equipment for the wayside of tracks has been installed; 78% of the office control systems are in place; 74% of employees have been trained; and 34% of commuter railroads are in testing, demonstration or operating with PTC. The latter step is typically done after other components are installed and functioning properly, hence the lower score.
- "Given the progress that has been made, particularly over this last quarter, we are optimistic and believe that significant progress will continue, as has been the case over the last number of months," Skoutelas told reporters.
Congress mandated in 2008 that commuter and freight rail use PTC when it passed the Rail Safety Improvement Act (RSIA), and after deadline extensions, all rail systems must have it fully implemented by Dec. 31, 2020. This year's deadline relates to the training of employees and installation of on-board and wayside technology, something Skoutelas said is expensive and had to be done in lieu of the backlog of other maintenance issues on public transportation. He said it will cost upwards of $4.1 billion to fully implement PTC, with the federal government having provided $272 million in grants last year and making another $250 million available this year.
Earlier this year, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) sent letters to several commuter rail systems it felt were in danger of missing this year's deadline, but Skoutelas said he is confident in every agency’s ability to meet the FRA's requirements. "All those judgments are just snapshots, they're points in time," he said. "They don't necessarily represent the kind of momentum that many of the agencies are making in terms of implementation. We're seeing a pretty dramatic rise in progress, and I think the second quarter statistics confirm that."
Those concerns from the FRA were echoed by the U.S. Government Accountability Office in a February report, although Skoutelas said it was "not clear" if there would be any punishment for systems that miss the deadline. With the end of the year fast approaching, it is imperative for systems to keep up the work to implement PTC technology, especially those that have been deemed to be falling behind. But with financial pressures and the limited number of vendors for PTC technology, there is always the possibility that some will not make it. "This has been no easy feat," Skoutelas said.
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