Positive Train Control

One of the major undertakings for the railroads in the USA right now is Positive Train Control, or PTC. This is a requirement of the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 and is a fairly sizable unfunded mandate. The railroads are largely picking up the dime for this work and they have a deadline of 2015 to get all the nation’s Class I railroads operating on PTC.

International Railway Journal is reporting that both AAR, the FRA, and major commuter railroads have all expressed doubts about meeting the deadline.

Sounds like NTSB chairwoman Deborah Hershman is pushing back for now though:

“What is hard is when our recommendations go unheeded and we see the same accident over and over again and more lives needlessly cut short,” she said. “The technology and the tools to implement PTC are available. Perhaps what we need to hear about is not what can’t be done, but what can be done.”

It isn’t exactly a recommendation, it’s a Congressional mandate, so the railroads have to comply. The railroads aren’t exactly a source of numerous, frequently-repeated accidents. Ultimately, these are easy words for a government bureaucrat, but it’s the railroads footing the bill.

From the IRJ article it is clear that the railroads are definitely making an effort at this. A system like this takes time and has to be commissioned carefully so that it, in and of itself, doesn’t cause more safety issues than it fixes. Give them a break Ms. Chairwoman, and give them some credit where due.

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