Blumenthal Demands FRA Hold Railroads Accountable for Failure to Install, Implement Life-Saving PTC Technology; Requests Installation Update from Metro-North

Recent FRA report identified nearly every railroad in country – including Connecticut’s Metro-North Railroad – will fail to meet December 31, 2015 PTC installation deadline after having more than seven years to complete

(Hartford, CT) – Following a recent Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) identifying that the majority of railroads will miss the December 31, 2015 deadline to implement Positive Train Control (PTC) technology, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) wrote to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and Metro-North Railroad regarding the troubling information highlighted in the report.

 

In a letter to FRA Acting Administrator Sarah Feinberg, Blumenthal stated that the FRA must hold railroads accountable for the inexcusable failure to meet this deadline – which was established in 2008 – to adopt critical, life-saving, PTC technology and requested a detailed plan and explanation on how the Administration plans to do so.

 

“Railroads need to be held accountable for their deliberate or negligent failure to comply with an existing legal deadline,” Blumenthal wrote to Administrator Feinberg. “More than just rhetoric, the FRA must demonstrate that willful or even negligent failure to set deadlines and meet them will have meaningful consequences. Railroads must have clear incentive to implement PTC by the December 31 deadline – which remains current law, despite ongoing debate in Congress.  The disciplinary regimen must be real and realistic with a penalty approach that recognizes good faith efforts and punishes intentional violations…They should be more than in effect the cost of doing business for railroads, allowing continued delay, death and injury.”

 

Metro-North Railroad (MNR), which serves thousands of Connecticut commuters every day, was noted in the report as on track to miss the December 2015 deadline and is only expected to being testing PTC in 2016, at the earliest, and not complete installation until after 2018. In his letter to MNR President Joseph Giulietti, Blumenthal demanded “a date certain by which Metro-North will complete full and final implementation of PTC. The public needs full assurance that there’s a firm deadline by which Metro-North will fulfill its obligation to protect the lives of passengers and workers.”

 

PTC is a critical life-saving technology that could have prevented the deaths of hundreds – including the four who tragically died in the Bronx in December 2013 – since the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) first recommended its installation over 45 years ago.

Blumenthal wrote to Giulietti. 

 

Full text of the letters can be viewed below:

 

Dear Acting Administrator Feinberg:

 

Last week, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) unveiled a troubling report stating that nearly every railroad in the country will fail to meet the December 31, 2015 deadline for implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC) technology.  These widespread, indefinite delays are deeply disturbing.  The report provides scant information on your agency’s plans to impose penalties and provide incentivizes.  I write to request more clarity as to how you intend to discipline railroads that fail to meet deadlines. 

 

As you know, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) first urged railroads to adopt PTC technology soon after a deadly train crash killed four in Darien, Connecticut in 1969.  In the many decades since, this critical, life-saving technology could have prevented hundreds of other deaths and thousands of injuries.  Railroads need to be held accountable for their deliberate or negligent failure to comply with an existing legal deadline.  Unfortunately, FRA’s report provides little new information on how your agency – the agency responsible for safety oversight – plans to discipline railroads that fail to comply with existing deadlines.  Instead, the report provides a general schedule of fines, notes that FRA has discretion in their implementation, and just vaguely cautions that penalties “could” be “substantial.”

 

More than just rhetoric, the FRA must demonstrate that willful or even negligent failure to set deadlines and meet them will have meaningful consequences.  Railroads must have clear incentive to implement PTC by the December 31 deadline – which remains current law, despite ongoing debate in Congress.  The disciplinary regimen must be real and realistic with a penalty approach that recognizes good faith efforts and punishes intentional violations.  This approach was reflected in the legislation that Senators Feinstein, Schumer and I introduced earlier this year.  The penalties you impose must be stiff and severe to properly sanction inaction.  They should be more than in effect the cost of doing business for railroads, allowing continued delay, death and injury.

 

The penalties imposed should be borne by these railroads – not by states like Connecticut or by the commuters and riders who deserve safe and reliable service.  Factual evidence should be required to show diligent, good faith efforts of railroads to plan, finance and implement PTC by the deadline.

 

In short, I ask for a complete explanation of how FRA will use its discretion to institute the schedule of fines and penalties and for your assurance that FRA will act as strongly and vigorously as possible in carrying out its oversight and enforcement role.  If railroads believe they can avoid consequences for deliberate delay or negligent avoidance, the critical goal of PTC implementation will be illusory.   

 

I appreciate your response to this matter.

 

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Dear Mr. Giulietti:

 

Last week, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) released a study revealing that most of our country’s railroads will fail to meet the December 31, 2015 deadline for implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC) technology.  These widespread, indefinite delays are deeply disturbing.  PTC is a critical life-saving technology that could have prevented the deaths of hundreds – including the four who tragically died in the Bronx in December 2013 – since the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) first recommended its installation over 45 years ago.

 

The report notes that Metro-North will not begin testing the system on the railroad until 2016, at the earliest, and appears to confirm that the earliest likely date for installation is 2018.  In fact, there is no firm deadline for Metro-North to complete this essential, life-saving program. The FRA report notes that some other railroads intend to meet the current deadline, but Metro-North’s completion date remains indefinite and distant, in effect tentative and open-ended.  Riders and consumers deserve to know a date certain for PTC implementation.  The public needs full assurance of a deadline for Metro-North fulfilling its obligation to protect the lives of passengers and workers on their behalf.  Please provide a date certain for the implementation of PTC.

 

I appreciate your response to this matter.


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