Positive Train Control Deadline Extension Needed to Keep Ag Shipments Moving By Rail

Oct 01, 2015

Transportation and Infrastructure Committee leaders this week introduced bipartisan legislation to extend the deadline for U.S. railroads to implement Positive Train Control (PTC) technology.

PTC is a GPS-based train electronic system designed to prevent collisions and over-speed derailments. Congress mandated that freight railroad lines carrying certain toxic materials, passenger railroads and commuter railroads implement PTC technology by Dec. 31, 2015.  However, most railroads have stated that, absent an extension of the PTC deadline, they will not transport TIH materials after Dec. 31 and have suggested that they would also cease any grain shipments and possibly all train movements.

Recently, a Government Accountability Office study on the issue confirmed that railroads have faced a number of challenges in implementing the complex technology, and most will not be able to meet the deadline—which could halt agricultural shipments.

“Completion of the Positive Train Control mandate by the end of the year is not achievable, and extending the deadline is essential to preventing significant disruptions of both passenger and freight rail service across the country,” said Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA), one of the sponsors of the Positive Train Control Enforcement and Implementation Act of 2015 (H.R. 3651).  “Railroads must implement this important but complicated safety technology in a responsible manner, and we need to give them the necessary time to do so.”

The PTC Enforcement and Implementation Act of 2015 extends the deadline to fully implement the technology to the end of 2018, provides limited authority for the U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary to extend the deadline beyond 2018 if railroads demonstrate they are facing continued difficulties in completing the mandate, but have made every effort to install PTC as soon as possible, and requires railroads to complete progress reports on implementation.

The American Soybean Association (ASA) is encouraging soy growers to contact their representatives and urge them to sign a letter in support of an extension to the deadline for rail companies to implement PTC to keep agricultural shipments moving.

Soy growers can contact their members of the U.S. House of Representatives and request that they sign onto the letter being circulated by Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) & Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA). No deadline has been set for the Quigley-Newhouse letter. Visit the Soy Action Center here for more details.

Last week, soy growers contacted their U.S. Senators and requested that they sign onto a similar letter being circulated by Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) and Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS).  ASA also signed onto an agricultural industry coalition letter addressed to the Congressional Leadership. The Federal Railroad Administration and the Government Accountability Office have also previously recommended extending the PTC deadline.

Senate Chairman John Thune and House Chairman Bill Shuster have both issued public statements indicating their support for a PTC extension. However, it is likely that complications with the highway bill will prevent it from getting enacted by the end of the year, much less by November. Alternatively, Congress could attach the PTC extension to a Continuing Resolution (CR) that will be needed by Oct. 1 to avoid a government shutdown or they could attach it to a temporary extension of the highway bill that may be needed in November or December.

The railroads and industry stakeholders such as the Fertilizer Institute are urging Congress to extend the deadline and they point out that logistical considerations dictate that it needs to happen before Jan.1.  Ideally, they’d like it done by November.