10.27.15

Rep. Schiff Urges House Leadership to Not Grant Any Blanket Extensions to Implementation of Positive Train Control

Schiff: “We Cannot Afford Another Chatsworth or Philadelphia Accident”

Washington, DC – Today, Rep. Schiff (D-CA) sent a letter to House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) and Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-OR) asking them to ensure that Congress does not provide any more blanket extensions to the implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC), predictive collision-avoidance technology which can override an operator to prevent train collisions and save lives. The technology consists of GPS signals and wayside devices that can detect unapproved train movement or trains going too fast with the ability to stop the train remotely.

“While I understand that many in the railroad industry believe an extension to PTC is necessary in order to maintain rail services, I don’t believe this merited an extension that could allow trains to operate without PTC for up to five years,” said Rep. Schiff. “We must not let implementation of PTC be the next issue that Congress will kick down the road in perpetuity. We cannot afford another accident like the 2008 accident in Chatsworth or the more recent one in Philadelphia. I ask that House leadership work with members of Congress and rail companies to ensure that PTC is implemented as fast as possible and no more blanket extensions are given.”

The full letter, and background, is below:


Dear Chairman Shuster and Ranking Member DeFazio:

I am writing to express my strong concerns regarding Congress’s consideration of a blanket delay in implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC). With the passage of the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-432), Congress mandated a 2015 deadline for railroad carriers to develop a plan for implementing PTC. While I understand that an extension is necessary, I ask that the Committee work to ensure that PTC is implemented in a timely manner and that we make clear that no more extensions are given.

The Rail Safety Improvement Act put in place a deadline for the implementation of PTC of December 2015. Seven years after passage, a majority of the railroad services will not meet the December 31st deadline. During that time, the railroad industry has attempted to extend the PTC implementation deadline citing logistical and financial costs as a reason for the delay. I recognize that given the approaching deadline, Congressional action to extend the PTC requirement or providing waivers to railroads that are out of compliance will be necessary. However, I am deeply concerned that a three or five-year, blanket extension will be interpreted by the industry as a waiver of the requirement, and send the message that by failing to meet future deadlines, they can simply come to Congress for additional extensions.

This would be a harmful outcome, because the evidence is clear that PTC saves lives. The National Transportation Safety Board has said that since 1969, PTC could have prevented 288 deaths and 6,574 injuries. In 2008, a collision between a Metrolink commuter train and a Union Pacific freight train in Chatsworth, CA, close to my district, killed 25 people and injured 102 more. It was determined that a distracted Metrolink engineer continued past warning signals and onto a section of single track and into the path of the rushing freight train. PTC could have prevented this terrible accident.

I recognize that an extension is necessary as we approach the December 31st deadline. However, I ask that you make clear that a short term extension of the PTC deadline will not become a permanent feature of Congressional action, as it has in so many other cases. While we provide flexibility and support to railroad industry that continues to work on PTC implementation, we must make clear that ultimately the installation of PTC technology across our railroad system is the right thing to do. Thank you, and I look forward to working with you on this important issue.

Sincerely,

Background:

In 2008, Rep. Schiff authored legislation – the Rail Collision Prevention Act, which was ultimately included in the Rail Safety Improvement Act – to require all major U.S. railroads to install “positive train control” systems designed to help avoid collisions.  These provisions came in response to the 2008 Metrolink-Union Pacific crash in Chatsworth, which killed 25 and injured 135, and a 2005 crash in Glendale where a Metrolink train collided with an automobile that was abandoned on the tracks.  That collision killed 11 people and was the deadliest Metrolink crash in its history, until the tragic collision in Chatsworth. 

Under the Rail Safety Improvement Act, which Schiff helped pass, railroads are required to install the life-saving technology by the end of 2015. However, Congress is pushing for a three-year extension with the ability of individual railroads to request an additional two years of extensions from the Department of Transportation – in effect, granting a five-year extension.

Schiff’s 2008 legislation which was signed into law required that:

  • Require both commuter and passenger railroads and freight train that share a track to implement positive train control systems;
  • Requires installation of these systems on all other passenger rail lines and rail lines used to transport hazardous materials; and
  • Authorize the Secretary of Transportation to assess fines up to $100,000 on rail carriers that fail to comply.

The bill also mandated a safety analysis on using cell phones and other devices in the cab of the train and reforms the hours of service rule to ensure that train conductors and other personnel receive adequate rest on the job. Here is how positive train control systems work:

  • Digital communications are combined with Global Positioning System (GPS) technology to monitor train locations and speeds.
  • These systems can detect excessive speed, improperly aligned switches, whether trains are on the wrong track, unauthorized train movements, and whether trains have missed signals to slow or stop.
  • If engineers do not comply with signals, the system automatically brings the trains to a stop.

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