Legal Alerts Oct 06, 2015

Deadline Fast Approaching for Positive Train Controls

Failure to Implement Safety Measures Will Result in Interrupted Railway Service

Deadline Fast Approaching for Positive Train Controls

Best Best & Krieger LLP’s Washington, D.C. Government Relations Services team is monitoring an urgent issue now being considered by the United States Congress that, if not resolved quickly, will affect any agency that depends on rail service of any kind — freight, commuter or passenger – and which have rail pass through their jurisdictions.

In response to a number of tragic rail incidents, including the 2008 Chatsworth train crash, which resulted in 25 deaths and more than 100 injuries, Congress enacted legislation mandating that certain railroads implement positive train controls systems by Dec. 31. Positive train control is statutorily defined as “a system designed to prevent train-to-train collisions, over-speed derailments, incursions into established work zone limits, and the movement of a train through a switch left in the wrong position.” (49 U.S.C. 20157(i)(3).)

As the Dec. 31 deadline fast approaches, there is increased concern that railroads continue to face significant challenges in implementing PTC. In fact, the Government Accountability Office recently released a report finding that most railroads are not expected to meet the implementation deadline. The ongoing implementation challenges are summarized in this report issued by the Federal Rail Administration.

The problem isn’t if, but when.
An extension of the implementation deadline requires Congressional approval. While there is an overall agreement in Congress that the PTC implementation deadline needs to be extended, nothing is that simple in Congress. This is especially true these days with the ongoing uncertainty over Speaker of the House John Boehner’s departure, the debt ceiling deadline moved up to Nov. 5, the Dec. 11 deadline concerning government funding and the Highway Trust Fund running out of money — just to name a few “minor” challenges knocking on Congress’ door.

So, what is the takeaway? There is complete agreement that PTC needs to be implemented to increase rail safety. However, more time is needed to make sure the necessary resources are available to rail carriers to ensure the successful rollout of PTC technology by all railroads. Without an extension by Congress, there is a real risk that railroads will halt service on their networks rather than face fines for operating without positive train control after the deadline. Thus, public agencies need to be prepared for a potential loss of an important means of public transportation, in addition to freight rail carriers potentially being “trapped” within a jurisdiction.

Our Washington, D.C. Government Relations Services group continues to monitor this important issue. If you would like to join the effort to garner speedy passage of this crucial legislation, or for more information on how it will impact your agency, contact one of the authors of this legal alert listed at right in the firm’s Government Relations Services group, or your BB&K attorney.

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Disclaimer: BB&K legal alerts are not intended as legal advice. Additional facts or future developments may affect subjects contained herein. Seek the advice of an attorney before acting or relying upon any information in this communiqué.

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