Batory warns that 12 railroads may not meet Dec. 31 PTC deadline

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Ron Batory, Federal Railroad Administration administrator
Federal Railroad Administration
WASHINGTON — Twelve of the 41 railroads that are required implement positive train control systems may miss the Dec. 31 deadline for equipment installation, or apply for an alternative schedule, Federal Railroad Administrator Ronald L. Batory told a Senate panel on May 16.

Batory presented members of the Senate appropriations subcommittee with Department of Transportation oversight a detailed explanation of where the railroad industry stood in the implementation process. In 2017, freight railroads had increased the amount of route miles under PTC control from 77 percent to 93 percent. But passenger lines showed only a 1 percent increase, largely because of lack of progress on commuter lines.

“The majority of issues are among commuter railroads,” Batory said. There were several contributing factors. It took two years after the 2008 law in which Congress required PTC installation. This was followed by years to develop the hardware and software to operate PTC systems by a “boutique supply industry.” By 2014, 16 railroads had never contacted PTC vendors, leading to a demand crunch.

Another major impediment to progress was turnover in leadership at commuter rail agencies, Batory said. In the 10 years that PTC has been the law, the changes in boards of directors and executives has been significantly higher than at the Class I railroads.

“Sustained leadership committed to the 2008 and 2015 statutes is paramount, and that's what we've seen among the Class I railroad community, as well as unique commuter agencies such as Metrolink and SEPTA.”

He called the Southern California Regional Rail Authority and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority his “poster children” for commuter rail compliance. Both reported full PTC compliance as of March 31.

Batory came under fire from U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., ranking Democrat on the Senate appropriations subcommittee, for holding back grant funds that could be used for PTC.

On May 15, the FRA announced that $250 million was available for grants under the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Program. Reed noted that a total of $520 million was available in the grant program. While the program set aside $250 million, all the funds could be used for PTC.

“Unfortunately the FRA decided to issue a notice of funding opportunity for only the $250 million minimum set aside for PTC, and hold back more $340 million,” Reed said. “I'm disappointed by the decision to separate the PTC fund, and strongly encourage the FRA to award all of the funding we've provided quickly and thoughtfully to address all of the safety risks we face as a nation."
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