Market Matters Blog

Legislation Introduced to Extend PTC Deadline

Mary Kennedy
By  Mary Kennedy , DTN Basis Analyst
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Tankers heading west on the BNSF Northern Transcon. (DTN photo by Mary Kennedy)

On September 30, the Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee introduced bipartisan legislation to extend the December 31 deadline for U.S. railroads to be compliant with Positive Train Control (PTC) technology.

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) President and CEO Edward R. Hamberger provided the following response to committee leaders: "The freight rail industry is pleased the House T&I bipartisan leadership has introduced legislation to extend the PTC deadline. The committee leadership clearly recognizes the need for immediate action to forestall the looming economic crisis that would result from widespread freight and passenger rail service disruption. We look forward to working with both the House and Senate bipartisan leadership to quickly get the PTC extension across the finish line and to the President's desk for signature."

The AAR said on its website that, "Train systems cannot be shut down or restarted overnight so freight railroads, passenger rail providers and shippers are being forced to make decisions now to prepare for the severe disruptions in rail service that will occur if Congress does not act soon on a PTC extension."

U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, released the following statement on his website in response to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's legislation to extend the deadline for railroads to implement PTC technology:

"Any Congressional action on PTC must ensure that railroads move swiftly and vigorously to install it without needless delay. It has been more than 45 years since the National Transportation Safety Board first urged railroads to implement positive train control -- an unacceptable delay in implementation of this critical, life-saving technology that has allowed numerous, preventable tragedies. Instead, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's bill provides a blanket extension to 2018, a troubling move considering that some railroads are on track to meet the current deadline. Extensions should be granted only to railroads that have demonstrated diligent, good faith efforts to meet the mandate. Only by holding railroads' feet to the fire will this critical, life-saving technology finally be implemented."

The legislation introduced September 30 would extend the Positive Train Control Enforcement and Implementation Act of 2015 deadline to the end of 2018. The details of the extension includes limited authority for the U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary to extend the deadline beyond 2018 if railroads can prove they are still facing difficulties in completing the mandate and have made every effort to install PTC. Railroads will be required to complete progress reports on their progress of compliance with the installation of PTC on their lines. (To see legislation, go to…)

It's no secret that many rai1roads have said they may start the shutdowns before the end of the year. That's unnerving to grain shippers and farmers who are just getting geared up for a large harvest. Grain shipments could be stalled if the line they run on needs to switch cars to a neighboring railroad that has shut down operations or if the line they ship on is closed down. Railroads have said they will shut their lines down to avoid any legal ramifications or fines if they can't get railroad accident-avoidance equipment installed on time.

It's a Catch 22 for farmers and shippers who want safe railroads, but also want to move their new crop corn and soybeans. They do not want nor can they afford a repeat of the economic disaster they experienced in 2014 when railroads underperformed.

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