Boardman weighs in on Amtrak's PTC mandate (updated)

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Then-Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman rides an inspection special at Dodge City, Kan., in 2016.
Bob Johnston

RATON, N.M. — Ramifications of a positive train control requirement by the Amtrak board of directors have not been seriously considered, argues former Amtrak president Joseph Boardman.

Amtrak is citing such a requirement in its plan to replace part of the route of the Southwest Chief with a bus bridge, and if the policy is uniformly applied, it could affect at least seven other routes. [See “Amtrak says it will not run trains on route without PTC,” Trains News Wire, Aug. 27, 2018.] Amtrak has subsequently said Trains News Wire's reporting of its PTC stance regarding routes without PTC is inaccurate.

Boardman championed local participation in the Southwest Chief route rehabilitation before he retired in late 2016. He also advocated for and helped pass the PTC requirement while he served as the Federal Railroad Administrator from 2005-2008. He says Amtrak is making knee-jerk decisions about safety that do not reflect the long-term safety record of passenger rail operations.

“If Amtrak requires PTC on any exempted portion,” he tells Trains News Wire, “the full cost of the PTC installation and maintenance becomes Amtrak’s. So they could load up costs for these routes or pass them on to states (sponsoring service). It’s just ridiculous, and it is not necessary in the sparse operating environment of the FRA-exempted track areas. It is also not financially sensible to burden this cost on Congress or a state given the operating situation.

“You can operate a safe railroad without PTC and you can have accidents with PTC,” Boardman adds. He references an unfortunate accident in 2016 in which the southbound Palmetto struck and killed two maintenance workers on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, which is protected by Amtrak’s form of PTC, the Advanced Civil Speed Enforcement System. “That was caused by human error,” Boardman says.

He insists Amtrak should stop ignoring the judgments of the Federal Railroad Administration and continue to operate safe railroading without PTC on the FRA-judged low risk sections of track that received PTC exemptions in order to fulfill the "Public Service" mission it was created for. 

"If the board made this decision then it has been poorly advised," Boardman adds. "Risk management and behavioral safety training is not new with the SMS program adopted from the FAA and recently promoted within Amtrak. [SMS, the Safety Management System, is described as a "formal, top-down, organization-wide approach to managing safety risk and assuring the effectiveness of safety risk controls."] Amtrak started a risk management department as a result of Inspector General recommendations several years ago and it has been improved in its effectiveness every year. Furthermore, Amtrak has been a leader in behavioral based safety since 2009 until that program was eliminated by my replacement in 2017." 

Boardman believes recent decisions and actions have resulted in “serious missteps with Amtrak stakeholders, customers, and members of Congress.” He says, “It is unacceptable nonsense. It's time to move on and provide customer and stakeholder service and commitment. It’s creating an unprofessional situation for Amtrak that is reprehensible and unsustainable in the eyes of Congress and Dodge and Garden City, Kansas; La Junta and Trinidad Colorado; Raton, and Las Vegas, New Mexico; BNSF Railroad employees, Private Car owners, and even the United States Marine Corp. And those disgusted stakeholders are only the tip of the problems.”

— Updated at 11 a.m. on Aug. 28 to include an explanation of the Safety Management System, and at 4:15 p.m. to note Amtrak's view that reporting of its views on PTC are inaccurate.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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