What is the problem?
Spurred by a deadly accident in Chatsworth, California, in 2008,
Congress and regulators issued federal mandates requiring that
railroads install positive train control (PTC) to prevent similar
tragedies. PTC is a life-saving collision avoidance technology that
stops a train before it strikes an obstacle. The first deadline—in
2015—came and went with few railroads meeting it; the second
deadline—December 31, 2018—has now passed, with more than
a quarter of passenger route miles and 83 percent of passenger
locomotives PTC-operable. Congress has allowed regulators to
Since Congress issued its original 2015 deadline to install PTC,
we have investigated many PTC-preventable accidents, including
the December 18, 2017, derailment of an Amtrak train in DuPont,
Washington, in which three passengers died.
Some railroads have been working hard and spending billions of
dollars to implement PTC, improving the safety of many tracks
and trains. According to the Federal Railroad Administration’s
(FRA) Quarter 3 PTC Status Report, issued in September 2018,
five “at-risk” railroads still remained; they had installed less than
95 percent of their PTC system hardware and were in danger of
not meeting Congressionally mandated deadlines or the criteria
necessary for an alternative schedule.
What can be done?
The extended deadline for the full PTC implementation
must be met, and no further extensions should be granted.
Preventable accidents, injuries, and deaths will continue
until PTC is fully implemented. The safety of railroad
passengers, train and maintenance crews, and the people
who live and work near railroads demands that railroads
fully implement PTC before the extended 2020 deadline.
To address the problem of PTC-preventable
accidents, the following actions should be
- Implement PTC now. All deadlines have passed; do not
request any further extensions.
- Do not allow any further extensions. The Federal Railroad
Administration must continue to pressure railroads that
did not meet previous deadlines and track the results of
- Continue to highlight railroads that met the deadline or
are meeting the extended deadlines—and point out those
who do not.
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