Tuesday, October 13, 2015

HR 3651 Introduced – PTC Extension

Earlier this month Rep. Shuster (R,PA) introduced HR 3651, the Positive Train Control Enforcement and Implementation Act of 2015. This bill would extend the current PTC implementation deadline from December 31st 2015 until 2018. This is one of the two bills that I briefly mentioned in my Friday post on the pending  STB action on PTC issues.

The bill makes a number of revisions to 49 USC 20157. Changes include:

• Establishing a date to submit revised plans to implement PTC {revised §20157(a)(1)};
• Revising the date by which the PTC plan is to be completely implemented {revised §20157(a)(1)};
• Providing authority to the Secretary of Transportation to extend the revised deadline {revised §20157(a)(2)};
• Add requirements for interoperability and risk-based implementation prioritization {new §20157(a)(3)(A)};
• Require annual PTC implementation progress reports from railroads {new §20157(c)}; and
• Allow for phased implementation of PTC technology within the new schedule {new §20157(h)(2)}.

Moving Forward

This is a somewhat contentious issue and I expect that we will be seeing two interesting markup hearings later this month. There are, however, 134 cosponsors of this bill from both parties and Schuster is the Chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, so this bill will move forward expeditiously in the House. I expect that it will reach the floor of the House before the end of the month.

The Senate has already addressed this issue in HR 22, the larger surface transportation authorization bill which is still pending action in the House, so it would seem that this bill should be able to be considered and adopted in the Senate rather quickly.

It is very likely that this bill will reach the President’s desk before the STB can take action on the petition that I described last Friday.


The railroads have been complaining for years now about the regulatory roadblocks that have impeded their efforts to implement PTC. That combined with their frequent reporting on the technical issues that they have had with designing separate systems that could operate with each other should have made it clear to any observer that the railroads would not complete the implementation of PTC by December 31st, 2015. But Congress has pretty much ignored the problem.

The Federal Railroad Administration and the railroads had to resort to issuing threats to get the attention of Congress. The FRA very publicly told Congress that unless they didn’t do something that the FRA would have to start levying some pretty steep daily fines on the railroads starting on January 1st. The railroads responded that they would be forced to shut down operations before January 1st to both avoid the FRA fines and greatly escalating their potential liability costs from any rail accident due to high probability of having punitive damages assessed.

HR 22 would probably be a better legislative vessel for solving this problem because it would also provide longer term authorization for surface transportation programs in general, but that is still tied up in a lot of congressional squabbling about funding issues. I expect that Shuster will move this bill forward rather than wait on HR 22. While there are some objections in the safety community about ‘letting the railroads slide’ on PTC implementation, those objections will almost certainly be easier to overcome than the perennial spending squabbles that are holding up HR 22.

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