Amtrak now aims to continue running all routes, even if they aren't PTC-compliant

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — In written testimony at last week’s congressional hearing on positive train control, Amtrak backed away from earlier statements indicating it would not operate on lines without PTC.

The written testimony by Scot Naparstek, Amtrak’s chief operating officer, was offered at the Sept. 13 hearing of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure’s Subcomittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials.

In it, Naparstek says, “… let me be clear that Amtrak’s goal is to continue to operate all of our services over all of our current routes come January 1, 2019. Exactly how we accomplish this will vary across our network, based on the specifics of each route, but … we believe we will have strategies in place that will permit us to continue operations until operational PTC or PTC-equivalency is achieved for all of our network.”

In February, Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson had said in testimony to the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure that Amtrak would not run on lines without PTC or a PTC waiver. In written testimony, he said, “in certain areas, where signal systems are not in place, we will reconsider whether we will operate at all;” appearing before the committee, he added, “And I doubt I will.” [See “Amtrak CEO says passenger trains will not run over track without PTC or PTC waiver,” Trains News Wire, Feb. 15, 2018.]

Naparsteck’s testimony said 37 segments on the Amtrak network are not expected to have PTC by the Dec. 31, 2018, deadline, but should be able to “apply for an alternative schedule” for implementation. It is also assessing those areas eligible for “Mainline Track Exclusion Addedums,” which waive the requirement to install PTC. Combined, such areas cover at least 2,100 miles of track in the Amtrak system, the written statement says, and assessment of all of them is ongoing, with those eligible for waiver of PTC to completed by the end of October and the rest by the end of the year.

These assessments, his statement says, will determine “what mitigations will be necessary to adopt for a given location over a given period to ensure Amtrak has a high degree of confidence in our ability to operate the safest possible railroad, short of the installation of PTC.”

Lack of PTC, despite an FRA waiver of the requirement for it, has figured in Amtrak’s proposal to run a bus bridge over part of the route of the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief. At a August meeting in Raton, N.M., which presented details of the bus-bridge plan, Stephen Gardner, Amtrak’s senior vice president and chief commerical officer, said the Amtrak board of directors had mandated that the company would not run on lines without positive train control after Dec. 31. [See “Amtrak says it will not run trains on routes without PTC,” Trains News Wire, Aug. 27, 2019.] Amtrak had said Trains reporting of the meeting was in error; Trains stands by its reporting, and a Kansas report on the meeting reported that Gardner said “positive train control is the board policy regardless of exemptions granted by the Federal Railroad Administration. [See “Analysis: Amtrak, stakeholders clarify positions on ‘Southwest Chief,’ PTC,” Trains News Wire, Aug. 31, 2019.

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