Railroads say they'll shut down over PTC

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WASHINGTON — Railroads are shooting red-hot rhetoric at Congress over the Dec. 31, 2015 positive train control deadline.

One after another on Wednesday, Class I railroads publicized letters that they sent to South Dakota U.S. Sen. John Thune about what railroad executives think they will do if Congress fails to pass an extension to a deadline first mandated in 2008.

Union Pacific's CEO Lance Fritz wrote bluntly, saying, " ...it is our plan to embargo all [toxic by inhalation] traffic as well as passenger traffic on our railroad. [Toxic by inhalation] traffic would be embargoed several weeks prior to Jan. 1, 2016, to ensure an orderly shutdown and clear our system of [toxic by inhalation] carloads prior to the end of the year."

The Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 first required U.S. railroads to install positive train control on mainlines that carry toxic by inhalation commodities, such as chlorine, or any lines that carry passengers, by Dec. 31.

Fritz wrote that the freight embargo would start before Thanksgiving, commuter operations would stop before midnight on Dec. 31, and long-distance passenger trains would be blocked several days before New Year's Eve.

Thune requested comments from railroad executives and the Surface Transportation Board about the PTC deadline in his own letter dated Aug. 28. Thune is chairman of the Senate's commerce committee, which oversees railroads, among other industries.

BNSF Railway CEO Carl Ice's letter was first noticed by the news media on Wednesday after it was published to the company's website. Ice wrote that company legal opinions question whether the railroad will be able to operate freight or passenger service on lines required to have PTC after Dec. 31

Senators have introduced several bills in the past few months that would extend the deadline to different years, the most popular option being 2018. Most railroads have consistently said that they would not be able to install PTC by the deadline, and have said so at hearings before the National Transportation Safety Board, before Congress, and to investigators with the Government Accountability Office.

Norfolk Southern included its response to Thune in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Wednesday. Jim Squires, NS' CEO, outlines the costs the railroad has borne to date by the eastern railroad, but also says the carrier may take the government to court, claiming lack of due process by the Federal Railroad Administration and the Federal government in creating the PTC deadline.

In separate letters, both Squires and Keith Creel, Canadian Pacific's CEO, say they are concerned about the potential for disruption to the national rail network.

The railroad executives' statements overshadow earlier promises from the Federal Railroad Administration to enforce the 2008 law strictly, by fining railroads for every instance of non-compliance with the PTC deadline, potentially meaning hundreds of thousands, or millions of dollars a day for the industry.

For more information on positive train control, visit Trains' PTC homepage.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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