WASHINGTON — The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) sent its Status of Positive Train Control Implementation report to Congress. The report is mandated by the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee and shows that after seven years and significant assistance from FRA, most railroads will miss the Dec. 31, 2015 positive train control (PTC) implementation deadline that Congress established in 2008.

“Positive Train Control is the most significant advancement in rail safety technology in more than a century. Simply put: it prevents accidents and saves lives, which is exactly what we seek to do at The Department of Transportation every single day. We will continue to do everything in our power to help railroads install this technology,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) began calling for train control systems like PTC in 1969, and FRA was involved in establishing PTC standards with stakeholders for more than a decade before the 2008 mandate. Three years before Congress passed the PTC mandate, FRA issued its final rule that established uniform PTC standards for railroads willing to voluntarily install the technology.

PTC prevents train-to-train collisions, over-speed derailments, incursions into established work zone limits and a train going to the wrong track because a switch was left in the wrong position.

In 2008, Congress passed the Rail Safety Improvement Act (RSIA), requiring all Class I railroads transporting poisonous-by-inhalation hazardous (PIH) or toxic-by-inhalation hazardous (TIH) materials and all railroads providing passenger service to implement Positive Train Control by Dec. 31, 2015.

FRA has provided significant assistance and support to railroads in order to help them become PTC compliant. Those efforts include:

  • Providing more than $650 million to passenger railroads, including nearly $400 million in Recovery Act funding.
  • Issuing a nearly $1 billion loan to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to implement PTC on the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North.
  • Building a PTC testbed in Pueblo, Colorado.
  • Working directly with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation to resolve issues related to spectrum use and improve the approval process for PTC communication towers.
  • Dedicating staff to continue work on PTC implementation in March 2010, including establishing a PTC task force.

“The Federal Railroad Administration will continue to use its resources and expertise to help railroads achieve the critical goal to have Positive Train Control implemented,” FRA Acting Administrator Sarah Feinberg said.

Read the full report here.

capitolWashington, D.C. — The U.S. Senate on Thursday voted to delay a year-end deadline for railroads to install automatic speed control equipment that would have averted a fatal Amtrak crash several months ago. 

The Senate passed $350 billion legislation to renew federal highway and rail programs for six years, 65-34, but the measure gives railroads another three years to install positive train control. The absence of such equipment along the Northeast Corridor was blamed for the May 13 fatal derailment of a speeding Amtrak train in Philadelphia.

Read more from

safety_signTwo months after a deadly Amtrak crash outside of Philadelphia thrust the issue back into the spotlight, frustrated legislators in the Northeast are seemingly no closer to getting the rail-safety upgrades they want.

The transportation measure sitting on the floor of the Senate would seem the best vehicle for them, even as it faces an uncertain future given the plan for both chambers to move a three-month highway-bill extension and revisit the issue in the fall—meaning more delays for what supporters say is an essential pot of money for rail safety.

Northeastern Democrats were disappointed by a lack of funding for safety upgrades in the bill that appeared on the Senate floor and have threatened their support for the final product unless more substantial changes are made. Even a late addition of more funding for a safety system known as Positive Train Control doesn’t seem to have met their demands.

Read more from NationalJournal

capitolWashington, D.C. — Two months after the high-speed derailment of an Amtrak train killed eight people and injured hundreds more in Philadelphia, a Senate transportation bill headed for debate this week calls for a three-year delay of the deadline for installing a rail safety system that experts say would have almost certainly prevented the Pennsylvania accident.

Lawmakers from the Northeast and train safety experts expressed outrage over the provision, which is included in the 1,000-page legislation to finance highway and transit projects for the next three years. Several lawmakers vowed to fight the extension of the deadline to install the safety system, called positive train control, beyond December 2015.

Read more from The New York Times.

safety_signWashington, D.C. – At a time of record auto recalls and high-profile train wrecks, Republicans are working on legislation to roll back safety regulation of the auto and railroad industries.

A bill approved this week on a party-line vote by a Senate committee brims with industry-sought provisions that would block, delay or roll back safety rules. The measure is to be part of a must-pass transportation bill that GOP leaders hope to put to a vote in the Senate as early as next week.

They are under pressure to act quickly because authority for transportation programs expires on July 31. Without a cash infusion, the government will have to delay highway and transit aid to states.

Read more from ABC7 KATV.

Washington, D.C. — A transportation bill introduced by a Senate committee chairman would allow car rental companies to rent recalled vehicles that haven’t been repaired and eliminate any hard deadline for railroads to start using long-sought technology that automatically stops trains to prevent crashes, safety advocates say.

The bill was introduced Thursday by Sen. John Thune, R – S.D., the chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

The bill includes provisions that would give freight and commuter railroads and Amtrak more time to install positive train control. The technology relies on GPS, wireless radio and computers to monitor train position and automatically stop trains that are in danger of derailing because they’re traveling too fast, are about to collide with another train or are about to enter an area where crews are working on tracks.

Read more from The Associated Press.



Washington, D.C. – Sarah Feinberg, acting director of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), addressed the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure concerning the implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC) June 24, 2015. Her speech follows.

“PTC technology is arguably the single-most important railroad safety development in more than a century. The technology is not new though – elements of PTC have existed since the early 20th century. In fact, regulators and safety advocates have been calling on the rail industry to implement some form of PTC for many decades.

“The Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 required the current functionality of Positive Train Control to be fully implemented by December 31, 2015. PTC is required on Class I railroad main lines where any poisonous or toxic by inhalation hazardous materials are transported. It is also required on any railroad’s main line where regularly scheduled intercity or commuter rail passenger service is conducted.

“Following passage of the PTC mandate in 2008, railroads submitted their PTC Implementation Plans in 2010 – these plans laid out a path forward that would allow each railroad to meet the deadline.

“As I have stated to this committee before: safety is the Federal Railroad Administration’s top priority. The rail system is not as safe as it could be without the full implementation of PTC. A safe rail system requires the full implementation of Positive Train Control. And that’s why FRA will enforce the Dec. 31, 2015 deadline for implementation, just as Congress mandated.

“For several years, FRA has been sounding the alarm that most railroads have not made sufficient progress in implementing PTC.

“In the seven years since passage of the PTC mandate, FRA has dedicated significant resources and worked closely with the railroad industry in order to assist and guide implementation. The FRA has:

  • Hired staff to assist and oversee the implementation of PTC;
  • Worked directly with the Federal Communications Commission to resolve spectrum issues and improve the approval process related to PTC communication towers;
  • Built a PTC system test bed at the Transportation Technology Center in Pueblo, Colo.;
  • Provided approximately $650 million in grant funds to support PTC implementation. This includes American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grants as well as Amtrak grants and other annual appropriations;
  • Requested $825 million to assist commuter railroads for the last two years;
  • Issued a $967-million loan through the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing program to the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the nation’s largest commuter railroad.

“I have also established a new PTC Task Force Team within FRA – that team is aggressively managing and monitoring each individual railroads’ progress, tracking data, ensuring we have the most accurate and up-to-date information and reporting in to me multiple times per week. This team is working in close collaboration with the many individuals at FRA, based here in Washington and in offices around the country, already working on this challenge.

“But, unfortunately, despite FRA’s financial support, technical assistance and warnings to Congress, many railroads have stated publicly that they will still not meet the Dec. 31, 2015, deadline.

“Recently, FRA received updated information about PTC implementation from 32 of the 38 railroads that we are currently tracking for enforcement purposes. Initial analysis indicates that Class I railroads have:

  • Completed or partially completed installations of approximately 50 percent of the locomotives that require PTC equipment;
  • Deployed approximately 50 percent of wayside units;
  • Replaced approximately 50 percent of signals that need replacement; and
  • Completed most of the required mapping for PTC tracks.

“By the end of 2015, AAR projects that:

  • 39 percent of locomotives will be fully equipped;
  • 76 percent of wayside interface units will be installed;
  • 67 percent of base station radios will be installed; and
  • 34 percent of required employees will be trained.

“According to APTA, 29 percent of commuter railroads are targeting to complete installation of PTC equipment by the end of 2015. Full implementation of PTC for all commuter lines is projected by 2020.

“FRA continues our work to finalize an enforcement strategy for those railroads that will miss the deadline. As with any regulatory enforcement posture, our ultimate goal is to bring all railroads into compliance as quickly and as safely as possible.

“Starting on January 1, 2016, FRA will impose penalties on railroads that have not fully implemented PTC. Fines will be based on FRA’s PTC penalty guidelines, which establish different penalties depending on the violation. There are many potential violations, such as:

  • $15,000 to $25,000 fine for failure to equip locomotives

“The penalties may be assessed per violation, per day and may be raised or lowered depending on mitigating or aggravating factors.

“The total amount of penalty each railroad faces will depend upon the amount of implementation progress the railroad has made.

“FRA will also use additional, appropriate enforcement tools to ensure railroads implement PTC on the fastest schedule possible – be it emergency orders, compliance orders, compliance agreements, additional civil penalties or any other tools at our disposal.

“FRA is also planning for what will come after the Jan. 1 deadline. In both 2014 and 2015, the Department and FRA asked Congress to provide FRA with additional authorities that would address the safety gap that will exist on many railroads between Jan. 1, 2016 and each railroad’s full PTC implementation.

“These additional authorities would provide FRA with the ability to review, approve and require interim safety measures for individual railroads that may fail to meet the PTC deadline. These interim safety requirements would be to ensure railroads are forced to raise the bar on safety if they miss the PTC deadline – but will not and cannot be used to replace or extend the deadline.

“In conclusion, I want to extend my thanks and appreciation to this Committee for its attention and focus on achieving full PTC implementation as efficiently and quickly as possible. We look forward to working with this Committee to improve our programs and make the American rail network safer, more reliable and more efficient.”

Mass transit car_FotorWhen a passenger boards a Metro-North train, there is every expectation to arrive at the destination safely.

Yet Congress is considering easing a year-end deadline for railroads to install a technology — called Positive Train Control — that will prevent accidents like those due to speed on curves. Some of the nation’s railroads, including Metro-North, say they cannot meet the Dec. 31 deadline, which was mandated in 2008 after a California crash killed 25.

A Federal Railroad Administration safety officer testified before a Congress last week that 71 percent of rail commuter lines in the country will not make the deadline. Positive Train Control, which automatically slows down or stops a train, can prevent four types of accidents: a train-to-train collision on the same track, a switch improperly aligned or a bridge not in the right position, as well as excessive speed on a curve. 

Read more from CTPost.

By John Previsich, SMART Transportation Division President



We are all aware of the recent incident that occurred on Amtrak Train 188 in Philadelphia. Three of our conductor Brothers and Sisters from Local 1370 in New York City and the engineer operating the locomotive have had their lives forever changed by a tragedy that could have been prevented. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Akida Henry, Thomas O’Brien, Emilio Fonseca and everyone who lost their lives or were injured in the May 12 derailment.

The accident is currently under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board. Members of the SMART Transportation Division’s National Safety Team were dispatched to the site of the catastrophic derailment to assist in the investigation. Significant progress has been made in understanding how and why the accident occurred and that investigation is continuing. It is our policy to not comment on the outcome of an ongoing investigation and we will leave that discussion for a later date.

We are, however, compelled to comment on a number of issues raised in the national discussion after the accident. The installation of Positive Train Control and its value in accident prevention has been placed front and center in the dialogue. While our Organization strongly supports the installation of PTC as a safety enhancement, we must comment that PTC is a safety overlay to the other measures that are necessary for a safe rail operation. PTC can be a valuable tool in helping to ensure safe operation of a train according to what is supposed to happen, but it is of little or no value in addressing issues that aren’t supposed to happen; i.e., pedestrian or vehicular intrusions into the right-of-way, broken or faulty rail or railhead, sudden incapacitation of the employee operating the train and other anomalies that will continue to occur with or without PTC.  Some in the rail industry even claim that PTC will permit locomotives traveling at high speeds, routinely hauling hazardous materials, to be safely operated by a single crew member. This claim is fiction. One need only look at the Chatsworth incident, Metro North and the tragic 2013 train wreck in Lac-Mégantic, where a train leveled an entire town in Quebec, to see the risks associated with operating trains with single-person crews.

The ongoing dialogue includes discussion of inward-facing cameras in locomotive cabs. While inward-facing cameras may be of interest after an accident occurs, they will do nothing to prevent tragedies like the one we saw in Philadelphia. It is only natural to want to know every detail that occurs during an accident. However, locomotives already incorporate sophisticated event recorders that record the actions of train crews. The recorder measures speed, throttle, amperage, whistle and bell, application of the brakes, location, operation of head lights, ditch lights, etc. The data collected are routinely used by the NTSB and FRA to pinpoint the cause of accidents, and have already provided important information about this terrible incident. Inward-facing cameras add little additional information to that already available and in fact may be counter-productive due to the intrusive and unnecessary distraction caused by their use.

Many who promote the increased use of video surveillance in locomotives have good intentions, but rail transportation safety will continue to be impaired until Congress adopts a serious reform agenda that addresses crew staffing, work schedules and chronic fatigue. Focusing on implementation of technology that might make it easier to investigate accidents or monitor employee behavior merely diverts the conversation from meaningful safety reform. No one should believe that inward-facing cameras are the answer to the multiple safety challenges faced by the industry. There is no technology that can ever safely replace a second crewmember in the cab. The uncontrolled external environment in which trains operate along with regulatory and operational demands of a safe transportation service demand a crew of at least two fully trained and qualified employees in the control cab of every train. All such employees must be given a predictable work schedule with adequate time away from work to properly mitigate the chronic fatigue inherent in the industry.

Allowing discussion of inward-facing cameras and PTC to divert policy makers from addressing other much more meaningful rail safety reforms would be a mistake. Employees know the real culprits that undermine rail safety include chronic fatigue, chaotic and unpredictable work schedules, trains being operated with a single crewmember in the locomotive cab – a situation that if not present would have prevented the Philadelphia accident – and delays in implementing life-saving measures such as predictable work schedules. No amount of PTC or surveillance cameras can make up for the lack of well-rested, properly-staffed operating crews.

It is time for Congress to get serious and advance legislation that will have a meaningful impact on the true safety issues in our industry. It is only through such action that we will reduce the occurrence of preventable rail accidents and save lives.

FRA_logo_wordsWASHINGTON — The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) today issued a safety advisory recommending actions that passenger railroads take to prevent trains from speeding.  The advisory is the latest in a series of steps FRA has taken to keep passenger railroads safe for the traveling public.

“Today the FRA is taking a smart and targeted approach to addressing a major issue involved in recent passenger rail accidents,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.  “Safety is our top priority at the Department, and today’s advisory is but one step we are taking to raise the bar on safety for passenger rail.”

The FRA recommends that passenger railroads immediately take the following actions to control passenger train speeds:

Identify locations where there is a reduction of more than 20 mph from the approach speed to a curve or bridge and the maximum authorized operating speed for passenger trains at that curve or bridge.

 Modify Automatic Train Control (ATC) systems (if in use) to ensure compliance with speed limits.

 If the railroad does not use ATC, ensure that all passenger train movements through the identified locations be made with a second qualified crew member in the cab of the controlling locomotive, or with constant communication between the locomotive engineer and an additional qualified and designated crewmember in the body of the train.

Install additional wayside signage alerting engineers and conductors of the maximum authorized passenger train speed throughout the passenger railroad’s system, with particular emphasis on additional signage at the identified locations.

“The FRA fully expects passenger railroads to take immediate action and implement these recommendations,” said Acting Federal Railroad Administrator Sarah Feinberg.  “We will continue to take action in the coming weeks to prevent human error from causing accidents and to keep passengers safe on the nation’s railroads.”

To view a copy of the Safety Advisory, click here.