Batory wants to give PTC railroads the “benefit of a doubt”

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Ron Batory, Federal Railroad Administraton administrator
Federal Railroad Administration
WASHINGTON — Amtrak President Richard Anderson recently told a Senate committee that Ronald L Batory, the new head of the Federal Railroad Administration, is the “spearhead” for positive train control compliance in the railroad industry.

Batory may be the spearhead, but he's not ready yet to skewer any railroad for failing to meet year-end PTC compliance deadlines.

“Ask me in about six months,” Batory tells Trains News Wire in an exclusive interview. “Right now I want to give them all the benefit of a doubt. None of them are ready to fall on their sword yet.

“The FRA took on a mission before my arrival to shepherd the to-be-compliant PTC railroads to fulfill what's set forth in the statutes. It's definitely a concern, but we can't do it for them.”

Batory estimated that among Class I railroads and Amtrak, the task is 80 percent to 90 percent complete. Among commuter railroads, some are nearly finished, others haven't begun. Some congressional critics are saying that some of the weakest lines won't make it.

“I gave [Congress] my word that I was coming here to be fair, unbiased, bring my knowledge base and do what's right,” says Batory, whose career in the railroad industry spans nearly 50 years. “And to speak to them with facts. If I make an expression, it's an opinion that's developed over time, based on institutional knowledge.”

Before Batory's arrival, the FRA was gauging railroads' progress through quarterly reports they submitted. In January, Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao ordered FRA to meet face-to-face with the carriers. Batory's confirmation as administrator was being held up in the Senate, so he joined the secretary's staff as a special advisor on railroads.

“I was privy to all 41 meetings, and you can get a lot more information from both sides of the table when you talk,” he says. The secret was candor: the FRA laid “all our cards on the table face up,” and asked the railroads' leaders to do the same.

“It was very enlightening for us, and it was helpful for many of those who disclosed where they were, where they think they're going to be by year's end, and what obstacles they envision,” he says.

Batory is unwilling to discuss what consequences are in store for railroads that miss the Dec. 31 deadline.

“I really want to see it get accomplished, and it will get accomplished,” Batory says. “It won't be anything we did at FRA by ourselves, it will get accomplished by all 41 railroads.

“PTC is something I think about when go to bed at night, and when I wake up in the morning,” he continued. “I'm thinking about all 41 railroads, what each one of them are doing, and what level of urgency they're doing it. It's not a matter of just doing it, it's doing it right.”
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