December 5, 2013

APTA's Melaniphy calls for Congress to fund PTC

In the wake of the recent accident in New York, American Public Transportation Association President/CEO Michael Melaniphy released a statement discussing how commuter rail systems around the nation are working aggressively on positive train control (PTC), while urging Congress to fund PTC’s implementation.

“By every measure, commuting by rail is one of the safest ways to travel and the commuter rail industry is unequivocally committed to implementing innovative safety technologies. The commuter railroad industry is aggressively implementing PTC, a technology, which is still being developed and tested, that would prevent collisions between trains and derailments resulting from trains traveling too fast. A PTC system would prevent trains from entering work zones as well as prevent the movement of trains through switches left in the wrong position.

All commuter rail systems in the United States have developed PTC implementation plans and as of June 2013, have spent at least $458 million in installing PTC. It is estimated that the cost of full implementation of PTC will be at least $2.75 billion. To date, Congress has only appropriated $50 million for PTC for this critical safety program.

Appropriating $50 million does not begin to address the costs of PTC implementation. It is APTA’s long-standing position that Congress needs to authorize and appropriate funding for PTC implementation for commuter railroads that will cover 80% of the implementation costs. Congress needs to do its part to make sure the PTC implementation can occur as soon as possible. Without additional funds, most commuter rail systems, which are all public agencies, will be constrained in their ability to proceed as quickly as possible.

There are several other reasons, beyond the lack of funding, that APTA has asked for an extension beyond the Dec. 31, 2015 deadline mandated in the Rail Safety Improvement Act. Both the Federal Railroad Administration and the Government Accountability Office have reviewed this issue and have concluded that most commuter railroads will not be able to meet the deadline.

There are significant technological challenges. Some of the technology required for PTC systems is still under development and has never been successfully tested in the commuter railroad environment with its unique operating characteristics where there are often multiple railroads sharing the same segment of track. Also, there are a very limited number of vendors who have the expertise needed to produce and install the systems.

Additionally, PTC is a communications intense technology which requires radio spectrum to transmit data between trains and communications towers. APTA has asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to provide free radio spectrum for commuter railroads as a public safety priority. There has been no action on this critical communications element, so APTA has called on Congress to direct the FCC to provide free radio spectrum.

Despite the challenges, the commuter rail industry is dedicated to full development of PTC, and is working aggressively to implement it. Congress must urgently address this critical safety technology and make sure that this congressional mandate is properly funded.”

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