The State of Positive Train Control Implementation in the United States
2167 Rayburn House Office Building
Summary of Subject Matter
Official Hearing Transcript
Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials
Hearing on “The State of Positive Train Control in the United States”
(Remarks as Prepared)
Our hearing today will focus on the implementation of Positive Train Control in the United States, one of the most complex and costly safety mandates ever undertaken by the railroad industry. Positive Train Control, or PTC, is a radio- or GPS-based system designed to automatically control trains to follow speed limits and avoid train-to-train collisions.
Following a deadly commuter train crash in Southern California, Congress mandated the installation of PTC on lines where certain hazardous materials are carried and any line on which passenger or commuter rail services operate. The recent tragic Amtrak crash in Philadelphia has reminded us that while these accidents are rare, they can happen, and PTC will make our rail network safer.
This mandate was included in the Rail Safety and Improvement Act of 2008, and Congress set an implementation deadline of December 31st, 2015. From the beginning, the PTC mandate was going to be a daunting undertaking. Consider that when completely implemented, PTC will require 38,000 wayside interfaces, 18,000 locomotives to be upgraded, and 12,000 signals will need to be replaced.
While similar systems exist in Europe, and on some portions of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, PTC has never been implemented on such a scale, and has never required such a high level of interoperability. Since the 2008 mandate was enacted, freight, passenger, and commuter railroads have spent the last seven years working to implement PTC. According to the Association of American Railroads, freight railroads have spent $5.7 billion to-date on PTC, and expect to spend a total of $9 billion for full deployment. The American Public Transportation Association has estimated that the commuter and passenger railroads will have to spend nearly $3.5 billion on PTC.
In addition the sheer cost and complexities of the system, there have been unexpected delays. The process of approving PTC poles along railroad right-of-way was delayed significantly when the Federal Communications Commission mandated that each pole go through an extensive review process. The FCC eventually created a more streamlined process for those approvals, and we will hear from them today about how it is working. Commuter and passenger railroads have also struggled to buy the necessary radio spectrum for PTC, especially in our dense metropolitan areas.
Today we will discuss how long it will take to get PTC implemented across this country and what will happen if the deadline is not extended.
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