Wednesday, August 24, 2011

FRA Publishes NPRM Amending PTC Requirements

Today the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) published in the Federal Register (76 FR 52918-52929) the notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) that I briefly mentioned in an earlier blog posting. According to the preamble to the NPRM:

“This notice proposes the removal of various regulatory requirements that require railroads to either conduct further analyses or meet certain risk-based criteria in order to avoid PTC system implementation on track segments that do not transport poison- or toxic-by-inhalation (PIH) hazardous materials traffic and are not used for intercity or commuter rail passenger transportation as of December 31, 2015.”


In 2008 Congress mandated {Section 104 of the Railroad Safety Improvement Act of 2008, Public Law 110-432, 122 Stat. 4854 (Oct. 16, 2008)} that the FRA establish requirements for the installation of automated positive train control systems (PTC) to control the operation of trains on certain designated lines. One of the methods of designating those lines required to be equipped with the expensive equipment was if a line segment provided transportation for poisonous (or toxic) by inhalation PIH (or TIH) chemicals as of 2008.

The railroads objected to the use of that date because other changes were made to rule concerning the transport of PIH chemicals at about that time that required potential changes to rail routings of those materials due to security and safety considerations. Those changes could have left the railroads with PTC mandates on lines that no longer qualified based upon their PIH tonnage.

Provisions were made for allowing railroad to request approval from the FRA to remove line segments from the PTC requirements. The requirements for that removal were stricter than those for the original classification of PTC covered segments. The American Association of Railroads filed a petition for review with the US Court of Appeals and ultimately reached a settlement agreement with the FRA that resulted in the publication of this NPRM.

New Requirement

The NPRM proposes to change the wording of 236.1005(b)(4)(ii) that would allow for changes to the PTC implementation requirements based upon three simple criteria:

(A) The cessation of passenger service on the involved track segment prior to January 1, 2016;

(B) A decline in gross tonnage below 5 million gross tons annually as computed over a 2-year period on the involved track segment; or

(C) The cessation or expected cessation of PIH traffic over the involved track segment prior to January 1, 2016.

The FRA predicts that this change would result in the removal of about 10,000 miles of rail line from the requirement to install PTC systems at a savings to the railroads of approximately $620.

Public Comments

As with all proposed rules, the FRA is soliciting public comments on this NPRM. Comments may be submitted via the Federal eRulemaking Portal (; docket number FRA-2011-0028). Such comments need to be submitted by October 24, 2011.

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