Oversight of Positive Train Control Implementation in the United States
2167 Rayburn House Office Building
This is a hearing of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials.
Shuster and Denham Opening Statements
Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA)
Thank you to Chairman Denham for scheduling this important hearing. Safety is the number one priority of this committee, and the most important task of the Department of Transportation. This committee and the Department have to always remain focused on efforts to improve rail safety.
Positive Train Control is one of the most ambitious, complex, and costly safety enhancements the railroad industry has ever undertaken. As early as 2012, GAO and FRA were reporting that railroads would not make the 2015 deadline. In 2015, Congress passed the bipartisan Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2015, which extended the deadline to December 31, 2018, with wide support from industry, government, and labor. At the time, we were hopeful this would help the railroads meet their implementation milestones. Today, we will get a status update on PTC implementation and learn what major challenges still remain for the railroads.
When Congress extended the PTC deadline, we were informed of issues the railroads faced. Throughout the implementation process, railroads have faced a complex set of challenges. One of the biggest issues was the ability to obtain spectrum. Both FRA and GAO have published multiple reports articulating the other obstacles faced, such as the integration and field testing of PTC components, the development of PTC technology, issues with availability of suppliers of PTC technology, radio interference, and interoperability issues. Today we are here to see if these issues, among others, still linger for the railroads.
I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today to discuss implementation challenges facing them and hopefully to find solutions to these challenges.
Chairman Jeff Denham (R-CA)
Our hearing today will focus on the implementation of Positive Train Control in the United States. This important, life-saving technology is one of the most complex safety mandates ever undertaken by the railroad industry.
Positive Train Control, or PTC, is a radio- or GPS-based system designed to prevent train-to-train collisions, overspeed derailments, incursions into work zones, and the movement of a train through a switch left in the wrong position.
From its inception a decade ago, Congress and stakeholders anticipated that the PTC mandate would be a daunting undertaking. PTC had never been implemented on such a large scale, and has never required such a high level of interoperability.
Since the 2008 mandate was enacted and the 2015 bipartisan extension was passed, freight, passenger, and commuter railroads have been working to implement PTC. According to the Association of American Railroads, freight railroads will spend $10.6 billion implementing PTC, with additional hundreds of millions each year to maintain. The American Public Transportation Association has estimated that the commuter and passenger railroads will have to spend nearly $3.6 billion on PTC.
When Congress passed the bipartisan PTC Enforcement and Implementation Act of 2015, we heard from railroads that funding was an issue. In the FAST Act, we authorized $199 million in PTC grant funding. Additionally, the FAST Act specifically prioritized PTC installation projects for Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing, or RRIF, funding.
In total, Congress made available more than $1 billion dollars in grant funding for PTC implementation, in addition to financing programs like RRIF and the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA).
Today we want to hear about any implementation challenges for the industry, and how we can work together to ensure PTC deadlines are met.