July 22, 2014

Senate bill would cut track miles for PTC

WASHINGTON — The senior Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, introduced legislation Feb. 8 to reduce the rail route miles over which positive train control (PTC) must be implemented before January 2016.

Senate co-sponsors include John Thune (R-S.D.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.).

The Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 mandated PTC be installed, and the Federal Railroad Administration followed with a regulation ordering PTC to be installed on some 73,000 miles of track — those carrying passengers and freight cars containing toxic inhalation hazard chemicals — by Dec. 31, 2015.

PTC is a collision-avoidance overlay system for locomotives, using global positioning satellites and computer software.

In a Jan. 8 press release, Hutchison said her legislation is not intended to roll back the congressional mandate, but rather reduce the number of track miles on which PTC must be installed.

“Traffic patterns for shipping toxic chemicals are changing,” Hutchison said. “This means that at least 10,000 route miles used to move chemicals in 2008 are no longer expected to transport these products in 2015.”

The proposed legislation follows a visit by railroad CEOs in late January to officials of the Obama administration, in which they reportedly said they are in the process of concentrating toxic inhalation hazards on fewer miles of track, and that the PTC mandate should affect traffic patterns expected in 2015 rather than traffic patterns in 2008.

Hutchison called the FRA’s PTC mandate “an example of regulatory excess that is costing America’s businesses billions of dollars with no obvious benefits. We must rein in the regulatory bureaucracy in order to unleash innovation and investment and spur job growth,” Hutchison said. “This commonsense bill would reduce compliance costs without impacting the safety or security of our country’s rail lines.

“By requiring the use of the 2015 traffic patterns, this bill will do much to address the mistakes made by the FRA in implementing this mandate,” Hutchison said.