Monday, August 12, 2013

Another PTC Delay

As if the railroads were not having enough problems meeting the congressionally mandated 2015 deadline for installing positive train control (PTC) systems along designated sections of passenger and freight rail lines, but now, according to a House Transportation Committee press release, the FCC has apparently put critical track-side antenna installations on hold while it figures out how to process 22,000+ applications.

In a letter to Acting FCC Chair Clyburn from two affected House committee chairs describes the problem this way:

“We understand that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) staff has advised the railroads that the construction of antennas are subject to the FCC’s environmental and historic review processes and regulations, including the use of the FCC;s Tower Construction Notification System (TCNS). We also understand that FCC staff has further advised the railroads that they should not proceed with PTC antenna construction without going through these processes.”

The letter goes on to note that “the FCC staff has advised the railroads not to proceed with any applications for environmental and historic reviews until an approach for expediting the notification and review process has been determined”. This appears to be another one of those cases where Congress did not do a complete review of what had to be done to accomplish one of their mandates.

I suspect that the FCC will come up with some way to handle classes of environmental impacts based upon different standard antenna designs, but it is not clear that it will be able to do so in a timely enough manner to allow approval and installation of 22,000 antennas by 2015.

The historic review process will probably be a completely separate problem. Most antenna locations will not fall within historic districts so the bulk of the approvals will be fairly routine and just moderately time consuming. The ones that will inevitably be required to be placed in historic districts will be a completely different story as the negotiation process proceeds with the various State Historic Preservation Officers; most of these folks take their jobs very seriously.

I suspect that Congress will have to extend the 2015 PTC deadline.

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