Farm Bureau urges quick action to avoid major rail service disruption
Washington-With the very real prospect of a nationwide Class I rail shutdown looming, farmers, ranchers and many others are calling on Congress to act now to extend the Dec. 31 deadline for implementation of positive train control.
"U.S. agriculture depends on efficient and safe transportation involving all modes-truck, rail, barges and vessels-to move commodities to domestic and international customers," the American Farm Bureau Federation and 47 other agricultural organizations wrote in a recent letter to the House and Senate. "We are deeply concerned that failure to extend the current deadline for installation and implementation of PTC technology will result in severe service disruptions in moving a projected near-record harvest during the peak fall shipping season."
Positive train control is a GPS-based train control system designed to prevent collisions and over-speed derailments. Under the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, railroads are required to implement PTC systems by the end of this year on mainline tracks that carry "toxic by inhalation" and "poisonous-by-inhalation" (TIH-PIH) materials like anhydrous ammonia-a key fertilizer ingredient-as well as passenger traffic.
BNSF, Union Pacific and other large rail carriers say they've been working on PTC since the mandate was put in place in 2008, but it's a very large, complex system made up of multiple independent technologies, many of which didn't exist seven years ago.
According to a Government Accountability Office study issued in September, no Class I freight railroad will be in compliance with PTC requirements by the end of the year. In addition, both BNSF and CSX have made it clear that the deadline will affect all freight service-not only TIH-PIH and passenger trains-on lines where PTC is not fully installed and implemented.
The organizations are urging lawmakers to quickly consider legislation to extend the PTC deadline. They noted their support for the bipartisan approach taken in the recently introduced Positive Train Control Enforcement and Implementation Act of 2015 (H.R. 3651). The bill would extend the PTC implementation deadline to Dec. 31, 2018.
In addition, the measure would require railroads to submit updated plans for implementing PTC for approval by the Secretary of Transportation before any further extensions beyond three years are granted, which would ensure implementation would occur as quickly as possible to enhance rail safety, while still taking into account real-word technological and implementation challenges.
"Further, such legislation would avert potential unnecessary disruptions in rail service that would harm U.S. agriculture, the national economy and U.S. jobs," the groups wrote.