WASHINGTON — The senior Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, introduced legislation Feb. 8 to reduce the rail route miles over which positive train control (PTC) must be implemented before January 2016.

Senate co-sponsors include John Thune (R-S.D.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.).

The Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 mandated PTC be installed, and the Federal Railroad Administration followed with a regulation ordering PTC to be installed on some 73,000 miles of track — those carrying passengers and freight cars containing toxic inhalation hazard chemicals — by Dec. 31, 2015.

PTC is a collision-avoidance overlay system for locomotives, using global positioning satellites and computer software.

In a Jan. 8 press release, Hutchison said her legislation is not intended to roll back the congressional mandate, but rather reduce the number of track miles on which PTC must be installed.

“Traffic patterns for shipping toxic chemicals are changing,” Hutchison said. “This means that at least 10,000 route miles used to move chemicals in 2008 are no longer expected to transport these products in 2015.”

The proposed legislation follows a visit by railroad CEOs in late January to officials of the Obama administration, in which they reportedly said they are in the process of concentrating toxic inhalation hazards on fewer miles of track, and that the PTC mandate should affect traffic patterns expected in 2015 rather than traffic patterns in 2008.

Hutchison called the FRA’s PTC mandate “an example of regulatory excess that is costing America’s businesses billions of dollars with no obvious benefits. We must rein in the regulatory bureaucracy in order to unleash innovation and investment and spur job growth,” Hutchison said. “This commonsense bill would reduce compliance costs without impacting the safety or security of our country’s rail lines.

“By requiring the use of the 2015 traffic patterns, this bill will do much to address the mistakes made by the FRA in implementing this mandate,” Hutchison said.

On the same day (Jan. 20) Union Pacific reported record fourth quarter and record calendar year 2010 profits, UP Chairman Jim Young said he is headed to Washington to meet with President Obama’s economic advisers to oppose a congressional mandate that railroads implement crash-avoidance positive train control by year-end 2015.

UP told investors its 2010 fourth quarter earnings had soared by 31 percent from the same quarter in 2009, and that its calendar year 2010 profit rose by 47 percent to a record $2.8 billion.

Twice during 2010, Union Pacific raised its common stock dividend, raising the dividend by 40 percent in 2010. Since 2001, the Union Pacific common stock dividend rate has been raised by 280 percent, for an average of 28 percent annually.

Young called 2010 the “most profitable year in Union Pacific’s nearly 150-year history.

“Economic indicators point to growth [in 2011], and if jobs improve, there will be even greater strength,” said Young, according to progressiverailroading.com. “The bar is raised, and last year the floor was set. We’re setting our sights even higher.”

UP repeated a previous announcement that it will increase its workforce by more than 4,000 in 2011 — an increase of almost 10 percent in its workforce — while bringing back the remainder of furloughed workers.

As for the Washington trip, in which Young said he will be joined by executives from other railroads, the Journal of Commerce reported that Young “strongly complained about the heavy expense of developing and deploying positive train control technology, which means outfitting locomotives with automated braking gear and tying it into trackside warning devices and other remote control systems.”

The railroads’ opposition to PTC — that its costs outweigh benefits — is disputed by independent studies, some commissioned by the Federal Railroad Administration.

The National Transportation Safety Board has long advocated implementation of PTC as a necessary safety overlay. The UTU and other rail labor organizations similarly support implementation of PTC.

Los Angeles Metrolink — a 512-mile commuter rail system, which serves the Southern California counties of Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernadino and Ventura — is moving to be the first railroad to install and implement a positive train control (PTC) system.

PTC is collision avoidance technology that monitors and controls train movements remotely, can prevent train-to-train collisions, prevent unauthorized train movement into a work zone, halt movement of a train through a switch left in the wrong position, and stop trains exceeding authorized speeds.

Congress has mandated that freight and passenger railroads install PTC on designated lines by Dec. 31, 2015.

To view an animated depiction of how PTC works as a safety overlay system to improve railroad safety, click here.

LOS ANGELES — A former Federal Railroad Administration chief safety officer, Jim Schultz, who later became a highly respected safety officer at CSX, is advising Los Angeles Metrolink as it moves to lead the rail industry in installing and implementing a positive train control system on Metrolink’s seven-route, 512-mile system serving the Southern California counties of Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernadino and Ventura.

Schultz, who was the FRA’s chief safety officer during the mid-1990s, won substantial praise at CSX during the late 1990s for his efforts — not entirely successful — to end the industry’s 19th century military legacy of top-down management engaging in employee harassment and intimidation to enforce safety rules and regulations.

In its place, Schultz, a former Air Force fighter pilot and Chicago & North Western operating officer, advocated peer intervention and coaching within a progressive corporate culture that recognizes employees do not intentionally violate safety rules and regulations.

Now semi-retired, Schultz is advising the Los Angeles Metrolink board of directors, which last week agreed to award a $120 million contract to Parsons Transportation Group to manage and integrate what the board calls “an aggressive implementation schedule” for PTC.

Recognizing the United Transportation Union’s perennial strong advocacy for positive train control, Schultz accompanied Metrolink CEO John Fenton to Washington, D.C., last week to brief UTU International President Mike Futhey and Alternate National Legislative Director John Risch on Metrolink’s PTC progress.

“Metrolink was the nation’s first rail operator to receive FRA approval for its PTC implementation plan,” Fenton said, and intends to be the “first railroad” to put it in operation. A federal mandate requires that freight and passenger railroads install PTC on designated lines by Dec. 31, 2015.

Positive train control, which has been on the National Transportation Safety Board’s “most wanted” list for more than a decade, is collision avoidance technology that monitors and controls train movements remotely, can prevent train-to-train collisions, prevent unauthorized train movement into a work zone, halt movement of a train through a switch left in the wrong position, and stop trains exceeding authorized speeds.

The Los Angeles Metrolink system, said Fenton, will consist of:

  • PTC on-board computers, display screens, GPS tracking, and radios on 57 cab-cars and 52 locomotives.
  • Stop-enforcement at 476 wayside signals.
  • Specialized communications to link wayside signals, trains and central dispatch.
  • A new central dispatch system.
  • Full interoperability with PTC eventually installed on freight railroads over whose track Metrolink operates — BNSF and Union Pacific.

While at CSX, Schultz said, “More than 150 years of ingrained tradition and culture must be changed” — replaced by “safety advocacy … We must create an open workplace where employees, their labor unions and management work as a team to take advantage of every opportunity to catch and push the company to a zero tolerance for safety breaches.”

Schultz was an early advocate of joint labor-management collaboration to draft improved safety standards, which is now embodied in the mission of the Rail Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC), through which all segments of the rail community work together to fashion mutually satisfactory solutions on safety regulatory issues.

As the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) works toward having effective safety regulations in place for the operation of positive train control prior to its 2015 congressionally mandated implementation, the agency is reaching out for feedback to its early proposals. In fact, many PTC operations likely will commence prior to 2015 mandatory date.

In response to specific questions asked by the FRA at a recent public hearing, the UTU and five other rail labor organizations jointly responded with regard to permissible use of certain locomotives, required enforcement of PTC’s ability to correct train overspeed, permissible use of non-PTC equipped or functional trains on PTC-required track, and use of unequipped trains and failed PTC trains.

  • The location of PTC-equipped locomotives in the engine consist: The FRA asked how a railroad is to handle a situation where an engine that is PTC-equipped is positioned with long hood forward or has a broken air conditioning unit. 

Responsible operating personnel recognize that operating a North American cab locomotive in the long hood forward position is patently unsafe and should only be permitted for short distances and then only in emergency situations, said the labor organizations.

Operating trains with the long hood forward presents safety concerns because the engineer has a limited view of the railroad with that configuration. 

WASHINGTON — Any federal funds flowing to freight railroads as part of a stimulus package, or investment tax credit or loans should be accompanied by a requirement that the railroads not use the money for technology that eliminates jobs.

That was the principal message Jan. 28 of the UTU to the House Rail Subcommittee, which sought public comment on the current state and future of the rail industry.

With the Obama administration and Congress committed to putting Americans back to work and keeping them on the job, any actions by railroads to use public dollars for elimination of jobs would be in violation of public policy, said the UTU. 

UTU National Legislative Director James Stem testified that the slumping economy already is responsible for the furlough of some 12 percent of train, engine and yard employees, and more job cuts are expected.

“We hope that the requirements of receiving any federal funds will neither promote nor allow a race to the bottom on wages or elimination of existing jobs,” Stem said. 

He said that “at least one railroad is planning to pay for the implementation of the positive train control (PTC) system required by Congress by attempting to operate their trains with only one employee on the train, and using federal funds to accomplish the goal.”

Public safety is another reason why single crew-member operation of trains with PTC is not feasible, Stem said.

“The responsibilities of the railroad to operate safely over public rail-highway grade crossings, to inspect the moving train at every opportunity, to open public crossings quickly when blocked by a stopped train, and to interact with emergency responders are issues that are not addressed by any PTC system, and such systems were never designed to do so,” he said.

Two crew persons are required to make simple repairs and to interact with local emergency responders following a derailment, a grade-crossing collision, or a trespasser injury or fatality. Over a recent five-year period, said Stem, more than 22,500 grade-crossing accidents, trespasser fatalities and suicides on train tracks occurred in the U.S.

“The use of federal funds to install a PTC system, while attempting to experiment with single person operation, would disregard the safety of other railroad crews, the communities that are served, and the customers’ well being,” Stem said.

“We strongly encourage Congress to clearly specify how any federal funds could be used by railroads, and to prohibit the use of any federal funds — whether tax credits, grants or loans — in a way that would eliminate jobs.”

The UTU also recommended that Congress allow for the issuance of one federal credential for entry into security controlled sites, rather than requiring rail workers to carry multiple identify cards that include their locomotive and/or conductor certification. A single card displaying all credentials would “simplify the process for railroads and their employees,” Stem said, “and use fewer federal resources.”

Additionally, the UTU observed that the National Transportation Safety Board has diluted the functions of its rail division, with the result that fewer investigations are launched into the cause of rail employee fatalities. Stem urged subcommittee members to work with rail labor and the Obama administration to restore NTSB’s focus on rail accident investigation, which is an important step toward improved rail safety.


Click here to read the entire UTU congressional testimony.