Feinstein's PTC bill would impact certain trains carrying ethanol

By Erin Voegele | April 22, 2015

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., recently introduced legislation that would allow railroads to be granted short-term extensions on the implementation of Positive Train Control, a crash-avoidance rail safety system designed to automatically prevent collisions. Information released by Feinstein’s office notes the bill also contains a provision that would ensure trains that carry more than 20 tank cars loaded with crude oil, ethanol, or other Class 3 material, run on tracks with PTC.

The legislation, known as the Positive Train Control Safety Act, or S. 1006, was introduced April 16 and referred the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. To date, Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.; Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.; Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.; and Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., have signed on to cosponsor the measure.

Current law requires railroads to install PTC by the end of this year. Feinstein’s bill would allow railroads one-year extensions, on a case-by-case basis, until 2018. A revised implementation plan would have to be submitted with extension applications. In addition, the Federal Railroad Administration would only grant extensions if the Secretary of Transportation determines that a railroad has demonstrated good faith in their PTC implementation and way delayed due to circumstances beyond their control.

A statement released by her office also indicates the bill would increase the transparency of implementation efforts by requiring railroads to file regular status reports. It would also require better coordination between the RFA and Federal Communications Commission to ensure the availability of wireless communications. In addition, the U.S. Department of Transportation would be required to evaluate the effectiveness of PTC at grade crossings. The bill also aims to improve opportunities for railroad employees to report safety deficiencies, protect employees in rail work zones, and improve inspection practices on commuter railroads.

Feinstein’s bill is not the only piece of recent legislation that aims to extend the deadline for PTC implementation. In March, Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., introduced the Railroad Safety and Positive Train Control Extension Act, or S. 650, which aims to extend the deadline for PTC implementation to 2020. To date, 13 senators have signed on to support the measure. The bill was introduced on March and was approved by the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on March 25.

“It has been 45 years since the National Transportation Safety Board first recommended a system of Positive Train Control and seven years since the horrific Metrolink collision near Chatsworth claimed 25 lives, an accident that could have been prevented by PTC,” Feinstein said. “Further unnecessary delay in implementing PTC—especially a blanket delay as proposed by the Commerce Committee—is simply unacceptable. If we have the technology to save lives, we must use it.”

According to the FRA, the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 mandated that PTC be implemented across a significant portion of the U.S. rail industry by the end of this year. The RFA published a final rule addressing PTC requirements in January 2010, with final rule amendments published in September 2010 and May 2012. Overall, PTC is expected to be implemented on approximately 70,000 miles of track.

A full copy of S. 1006 can be downloaded on Feinstein’s website.