- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Most major railroads will not meet the mandated Dec. 31 deadline to install an automated train navigation system, according to a federal report.

The navigation system, known as Positive Train Control (PTC), regulates the speed and track movements of trains, and is able to automatically slow down speeding trains to prevent derailments such as the deadly Amtrak crash in Philadelphia in May.

The December deadline for automated trains on most of the nation’s commuter and freight railroads was set under a law passed in the aftermath of a 2008 commuter rail crash in California.

But the report from the Government Accountability Office revealed Wednesday that about two-thirds of the railroads they reviewed have said they will not complete installation of PTC before the deadline.

“Most railroads in GAO’s review (20 of 29) estimate that they will implement positive train control (PTC) — a communications-based system designed to prevent certain types of train accidents — 1 to 5 years after the statutory deadline of December 31, 2015 (3 did not have an estimated completion date),” the GAO said in a report.

One of the remaining six railroads in the review received an exception from installing PTC on its track because it is operating at slower speeds. 

The five railroads that are expected to meet the deadline may be affected by the other railroads that won’t be ready in time.

According to the report, the “ability of these five railroads to fully operate with PTC may be affected because other railroads that operate equipment on their tracks — known as tenants — or that own tracks that they operate on — known as hosts — may not be equipped with PTC.” 

In addition, “the ability of railroads to meet the deadline may be affected by the interoperability of their PTC system with those of other railroads and whether they can obtain final system approval from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA),” according to the report. 

Freight and passenger rail companies have warned Congress that they will likely have to shut down traffic on major train corridors across the country unless an extension of the December deadline is passed. 

But safety advocates, citing the Amtrak crash this year, say it is vital for the administration to enforce the mandate to prevent future catastrophes. 

The GAO said in its report that Congress should try to find a way to address both the safety and implementation concerns, recommending the FRA “develop a plan that outlines how the agency will hold railroads accountable for making continued progress toward the full implementation of PTC by, among other things, collecting any additional information needed to track progress of individual railroads.” 

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