-From Ronald L. Batory, Administrator: This letter is the Federal Railroad Administration's (FRA.) updated and final response to the National Transportation Safety Board's (NTSB) Safety Recommendations R-12-20 and R-12-27.
The NTSB issued the former recommendation in response to the April 17, 2011 , collision between a BNSF Railway (BNSF) train and a standing BNSF maintenance-of-way equipment vehicle near Red Oak, Iowa. The NTSB issued the latter recommendation in response to the July 14, 2009, collision of a Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern Railroad freight train and loaded railcars on a yard track near Bettendorf, Iowa.
On October 11 , 2018, FRA met with the NTSB concerning these and several other safety recommendations. As we discussed at the meeting and as described in the enclosure, FRA believes that, for several reasons, we should take no further action on these recommendations, and we respectfully ask that the NTSB close them.
I appreciate your interest in these important safety issues. If FRA. can provide further information or assistance, please contact Mr. Robert C. Lauby, Associate Administrator for Railroad Safety and Chief Safety Officer.
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has been assessing the efforts of the railroad industry to implement positive train control (PTC) systems by the December 31, 2018, deadline, and our determinations do not dissuade us from our previous position that we should not implement Safety Recommendation R-12-20.
In March 2015, FRA informed the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) that we intended to take no further action on R-12-20 and requested that it be closed. FRA explained that requiring this technology would greatly increase the negative cost-benefit ratio keeping railroads from implementing PTC beyond current mandates, and that adding new requirements to PTC systems late in the process would be counterproductive by greatly delaying full implementation. In May 2016, the NTSB responded, disagreeing that a rulemaking to add new requirements would further delay implementation, since implementation had already been delayed and extended. FRA maintains that additional PTC mandate would delay implementation even further given the significant work remaining for host railroads and tenant railroads to fully implement PTC systems on approximately 58,000 route miles of railroad main lines, in accordance with the statutory mandate and FRA's existing technical specifications under 49 CFR part 236, subpart I.
Furthermore, FRA faces constraints in addressing recommendations to "require" railroads to take certain actions. All Federal agencies, including the FRA, must follow the direction of Executive Orders 12866 and 13563 for rulemaking, which include quantifying costs and benefits, reducing costs, harmonizing rules, and promoting flexibility. Executive Order 12866 specifically states that:
Each agency shall assess both the costs and the benefits of the intended regulation and, recognizing that some costs and benefits are difficult to quantify, propose or adopt a regulation only upon a reasoned determination that the benefits of the intended regulation justify its costs.
To meet the requirements of these Executive Orders, for each proposed and final regulation issued, FRA performs a regulatory analysis to:
1. Establish whether Federal regulation is necessary and justified to achieve a social goal; and
2. Clarify how to design regulations in the most efficient, least burdensome, and most cost-effective manner.
While issuing regulations to implement this recommendation could improve railroad safety
in the specific railroad accident or incident from which it arose, regulatory action to
implement this recommendation would result in financial and safety costs that far exceed
the societal benefits of improved safety or accident avoidance. Based on the associated cost benefit analysis, implementing such a regulation (as prescribed by the recommendation) would not meet the intent of the Executive Orders listed above, and accordingly, would likely not be approved for publication by the Office of Management and Budget. Furthermore, implementing regulations with costs that far outweigh benefits would divert resources from other, more beneficial safety measures.
The current PTC technologies being deployed by railroads do not necessarily detect the rear ends of trains, and we agree with the NTSB that they are unlikely to prevent rear-end train-to-train collisions that may occur when trains are operating below restricted speed. But rail accidents involving rear-end collisions are rare, and mandating additional requirements now could delay the railroads' efforts to implement PTC systems, increasing the likelihood of more common preventable accidents.
Current indications show that full deployment of PTC as required by the existing statutory mandate and FRA' s implementing regulations is unlikely to be complete before December 31, 2020. As indicated in the March 2018 independent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report (GA0-18-367T Positive Train Control), severe resource constraints already face the rail industry in meeting existing deadlines to fully implement PTC systems that comply with existing technical requirements. To further delay this process without justifiable benefit does not serve public safety.
PTC-preventable accidents, even including the enhancements for end-of-train detection recommended in R-12-20, represent approximately 5 percent of all rail accidents and incidents.
The original estimated cost-benefit ratio for PTC, as it is currently being deployed, was approximately $20 in costs for every $1 in safety benefits. Actual implementation costs are over twice the original FRA estimate used for calculating the already adverse 20: I cost-benefit ratio, making the as-built cost-benefit ratio significantly worse than projected. Adding the new requirements ofR-12-20 would further worsen the ratio.
These additional, excessive costs are not justifiable because rear-end collisions are exceedingly rare. In 2017, only 0.6 percent of rail accidents were rear-end collisions. The data from 2010 to the present is essentially the same, averaging 0.68 percent of rail accidents per year.
Adding this new requirement would further reduce limited industry and government resources from other critical rail safety efforts. Given the current cost of PTC system implementation (approaching $16 billion), available resources would be better spent where they can have a greater impact: addressing issues that make up a greater percentage of rail accidents and incidents and that can be accomplished with more advantageous cost-benefit ratios.
An argument could be made that adding Global Positioning System (GPS) units to the rears of trains might allow transmitting the length of trains and the end--of-train locations to other trains, thus satisfying the recommendation's intent. Unfortunately, current train designs were not intended to provide this capability, and not all PTC systems are based on using GPS.
Following railroads' full implementation of PTC systems to meet the current statutory mandate and FRA's regulations, FRA will periodically re-evaluate, assess, and consider (with respect to resources available at the time and comparative cost-benefit analyses) what additional potential rail safety improvements could be implemented. However, at this time, FRA will not take any further action toward this recommendation and asks the NTSB to close it.