The National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) is warning that the U.S. rail transportation system could be crippled if passenger railroads are forced to suspend train service on December 1. Amtrak and commuter railroads are facing a December 31, 2015, deadline to install Positive Train Control (PTC) technology.
Amtrak and other train operators, including New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Chicago’s Metra, warn they will be forced to halt passenger and freight service on January 1 in the face of regulatory deadlines surrounding the installation of PTC, a safety technology. Those shutdowns would affect millions of passengers across America, causing massive delays and gridlock.
Given the scope of the technical challenges of installing a seamless technology across 40 railroads covering 68,000 miles of track—coupled with a severe lack of funding for Amtrak and commuter railroads to implement the safety mandate—it has been long understood that most railroads would not meet the January 1, 2016 deadline for beginning operations.
NARP submitted a path for responsible extension of the deadline to Congress in February 2015, and has been warning about the consequences of failing to extend the deadline for months. These warnings were underscored by a September 2015 report issued by the Government Accountability Office, which warned that most railroads are not capable of meeting the deadline.
That would hurt everyone from Amtrak long-distance customers on their holiday to commuter rail passengers trying to get to work. Given the complex logistics involved, draw-down planning could begin as early as this month, including service discontinuation notices to passengers. A recent report by the American Chemistry Council found that a month-long rail service disruption could cost the economy $30 billion and 700,000 jobs.
The DRIVE Act (H.R. 22) includes a three-year extension, requires railroads that use the extension to submit an updated implementation plan, and creates a strong Federal Railroad Administration role in reviewing and approving the plans. It also provides almost $200 million in much-needed funding for positive train control implementation.
“The current multimodal transportation system relies on rail service to function effectively,” said NARP President and CEO Jim Mathews. “Congress has a responsibility to get the funding needed to pay for PTC installation and ensure that the millions of passengers who rely on the U.S. rail network will have the service they deserve on January 1, 2016.”
About the National Association of Railroad Passengers
NARP is the only national organization speaking for the nearly 40 million users of passenger trains and rail transit. We have worked since 1967 to expand the quality and quantity of passenger rail in the U.S. Our mission is to work towards a modern, customer-focused national passenger train network that provides a travel choice Americans want. Our work is supported by more than 28,000 individual members nationwide.