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Statement on Senate Commerce Surface Transportation Subcommittee Hearing on Improving Transportation Network

February 12, 2015

Mathews to Senate Transportation Subcommittee

Statement of

Jim Mathews

President & CEO

National Association of Railroad Passengers

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Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security

The Honorable Deb Fischer, Chair

The Honorable Cory Booker, Ranking Member


U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation

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Hearing on Improving the Performance of our Transportation Networks: Stakeholder Perspectives

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January 29, 2015

Submitted February 12, 2015

* * * Following upon the January 29 hearing on improving the performance of U.S. transportation networks, please consider the following policy recommendations from the National Association of Railroad Passengers regarding the implementation of Positive Train Control.

Accepting that compliance with the December 31, 2015, statutory deadline is not feasible, NARP recommends that any new law which changes that deadline should:
(1) Grant authority to the Secretary of Transportation, on an individual company basis, to give up to three, consecutive 18-month extensions, bringing the latest possible date of compliance 4-1/2 years after the current deadline, or June 30, 2020.

(2) Change the law so that heavily traveled mainlines are not exempt because they happen to be owned by other than a Class 1;

(3) Explicitly require the prevention of low-speed, rear-end collisions -- of which there have been fatal ones within the past four years [see below]. The system as currently being installed does not know the length of trains and therefore cannot prevent low-speed, rear-end collisions.

Point #1 would be preferable to legislatively forcing the gift to the entire industry of a blanket 5-year extension. It would enable the Secretary to treat with appropriate differences railroads which have worked hard on PTC vs. those who have not.

Point #2 would protect the railroads from a tragic accident that also would be a public relations disaster for the industry -- how to explain having installed PTC all across rural America but having taken advantage of a legal loophole either to avoid installation in populated areas like the cities of Kansas City and St. Louis. [Some states may come up with the money to save their passenger trains; other states already choking on the big run-up in Amtrak-related costs under Section 209 of the 2008 law may let the service die and leave PTC absent where most needed.]

Point #3 would make explicit what most people thought the law already meant – train-to-train collisions must be prevented; there is no exception for low-speed, rear-end collisions. The NTSB April 24, 2012, report on the April 17, 2011, fatal collision at Red Oak, Iowa, stated that “the PTC designs that are being deployed and the FRA’s final rule on the application of PTC are unlikely to prevent future restricted speed restricted speed rear-end collisions similar to the 58 rear-end collisions reported to the Federal Railroad Administration over the last 10 years or the collision at Red Oak because train speeds at the upper limit of restricted speed are allowed.”

FRA’s April 25, 2012, advisory in response to the NTSB’s report detailed six rear-end collisions over the past year that caused four employee fatalities (the other two were at Mineral Springs, NC, on CSX on May 24, 2011, and DeWitt, NY, on CSX on July 6, 2011), six employee injuries and property damage exceeding $6 million. Thankfully, no passenger trains were involved.