FRA: We will work with railroads to meet Dec. 31 PTC deadline

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WASHINGTON – The Federal Railroad Administration has the authority to shut down a railroad for unsafe conditions. Failing to complete installation of positive train control by Jan. 1, 2019, may not meet that threshold, but there will still be a price to pay, says Carolyn Hayward-Williams, staff director of the FRA's signal and train control division.

“Many people ask me, 'What happens if I don't meet the criteria for an extension?' 'Do I have to stop running?' 'Are you going to shut us down?' Just because you don't have PTC on Jan 1, 2019, is not the likely criteria.” Hayward-Williams spoke on June 11 at a PTC seminar at the Transport Security Congress' seventh annual SafeRail conference.

She emphasized that FRA Administrator Ronald L. Batory will have the final say on what happens to a railroad that does not meet the Dec. 31 deadline for PTC compliance. Railroads that have shown sufficient progress may apply for a two-year extension to get their PTC systems up and running.

“But many railroads have told us there are implications for their insurance. There are implications for their board of directors making a decision whether or not they want to continue to operate,” Hayward-Williams said. “One thing is for sure: A railroad that doesn't meet the criteria for an extension, and continues to operate, would be subject to fines and penalties.”

The warnings aside, Hayward-Williams was upbeat about the progress railroads were making. “All of the railroads have a plan to deliver and meet the qualifications for an extension. Many railroads don't need the extension,” she said. “That's the good news. The FRA will be working with these railroads over the next months and helping them achieve these requirements.”

Hayward-Williams admitted that compliance has been a paperwork burden for the 40 freight, passenger and commuter lines that are obligated to install PTC systems. Original and revised safety plans can fill 10,000 pages. However, she told News Wire that the agency is adding staff to keep pace with the volume of documents it is receiving.

Hayward-Williams said the FRA also is receiving questions about how PTC compliance will enforced once the systems are operating.

“The FRA has a large inspection force to ensure compliance with our regulations. PTC introduces a nice little twist for us, given that it's a performance-based regulation,” she said. “We ultimately will need to ensure that the railroads meet the requirements in the safety plan, but we aren't going to be giving all of our inspectors a 5,000-page safety plan to carry around.”

Inspectors will be looking for key documents, such as records that show that maintenance has been carried out according to the plan. Other aspects will be record retention, and how a railroad responds to system errors and malfunctions.

The FRA is working with the railroad industry to determine how PTC compliance will be enforced, she said.

“This is a work in progress,” she said. “Once we get past the end of this year – which is a big milestone – we will be focusing on expanding our compliance manual.”

Hayward-Williams also reminded the audience that the FRA has $250 million in grant money for PTC installation under the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Act. Applications are due June 21. More funds will be available later.

Other speakers on the program came from railroads in different stages of PTC completion.
• The Long Island Railroad is having an employee retention problem, said Deborah Chin, executive director for PTC. She said the problem of losing experienced employees and hiring replacements has slowed progress.
• Trinity Railway Express expects to apply for an alternative compliance schedule, said Bonnie Murphy, Dallas Area Rapid Transit vice president for commuter rail. She said that DART is working with two other transit agencies in the Dallas-Fort Worth area to develop PTC systems.
• Darrell Maxey, deputy chief operating officer for Metrolink, the Southern California Regional Rail Authority, noted that the system was celebrating its third year of operating with PTC. It has been 10 years since the catastrophic 2008 collision between a Metrolink train and a Union Pacific freight train. The incident led to the federal law requiring railroads to install systems.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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