UPDATED: October 25, 2015 – TRA
Lacking Congressional action within days, railroads will be notifying their shippers and commuter railroads will tell their passengers that services will be suspended at the end of the year. Inaction by lawmakers to grant an extension for railroads to complete a federally mandated program called Positive Train Control will result in major disruptions to the nation’s economy according to the Association of American Railroads. The AAR indicates that freight will fail to reach customers, millions of commuters will be stranded and the economy will take a $30 billion dollar hit.
Politico Morning Transportation reports that House lawmakers return this week to vote on a 22-day short term extension for transportation projects. The patch has one potential poison pill and that’s a PTC extension.
The measure T&I Chairman Bill Shuster laid out Friday night includes language that would give railroads until 2018 to implement positive train control technology. Senator Barbara Boxer has vowed to block any short-term transportation bill that kicks the PTC mandate further into the future. An aide for Boxer said she believes that to place a three- to five-year PTC delay on a very short-term transportation bill extension is a special interest earmark, and she does not stand alone in this view.
Texas would be especially hard hit with any delay in a Positive Train Control extension. Regional passenger railroads such as the Trinity Railway Express will not be PTC compliant by the end of December. DART spokesperson Morgan Lyons told Texas Rail Advocates that the TRE is required to hold a public hearing ahead of any change or termination of service. That hearing is scheduled for November 17 if Congress drags its feet. Lyons indicated that a potential shut down of Dallas to Fort Worth passenger rail service could shift train riders to buses.
Austin’s MetroRail and Amtrak Texas passenger rail service would also be subject to a shut down.
As we reported previously, petrochemical industries on the Texas Gulf Coast to agriculture interests throughout the state dependent on continued shipments of commodities would have to shift to thousands of trucks to carry their loads. As would cities that are dependent on chemicals received by railroad tank cars to purify drinking water, putting stress on roads and creating even more traffic congestion. Even without Congress’ action, the nation’s top freight railroads say they need anywhere from two to five more years to install the multibillion-dollar safety technology, the Government Accountability Office reported last month. A few commuter rail systems told the GAO they have no idea when they could finish the job.
Industry organization such as GoRail are urging the public to tell their elected officials to approve a PTC extension quickly: http://gorail.force.com/action/gorailtakeaction?actionid=AR0000017
More than 100 oil, gas, coal, farming, manufacturing, retail and other business groups are also urging lawmakers to postpone the mandate, as are the U.S. Conference of Mayors, local transit agencies, newspaper editorials, more than 150 House members and nearly half the Senate.”
The nation’s four largest railroads — BNSF, CSX, Union Pacific and Norfolk Southern — have said they could face millions of dollars in fines and would risk lawsuits if they continue transporting hazardous cargo without the safety systems in place after the deadline passes.
The scope of the rail traffic at stake in the debate is huge. Trains shipped more than 300 million tons of grains, oil seeds and other agricultural commodities last year as well as 80 tons of anhydrous ammonia, a key component of fertilizer. Coal wouldn’t be able to move across the country to states needing it for power production, the railroads and their supporters say. Neither, they contend, would chemicals used for more than 96 percent of manufactured goods.