Rep. Jeff Denham Pushes to Prioritize California Positive Train Control Implementation Over High-Speed Rail
In response to questioning by Rep. Denham, FRA Acting Administrator Sarah Feinberg today committed to review the idea of diverting California high-speed rail dollars for PTC implementation.
June 2, 2015 - WASHINGTON — Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Chairman Jeff Denham (R-Turlock) today participated in a hearing held by the full Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on oversight of the Amtrak train 188 derailment, which took place on Tuesday, May 12, 2015 and resulted in over 200 injuries and the loss of eight lives. Rep. Denham questioned Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Acting Administrator Sarah Feinberg about the FRA’s choice to prioritize spending on projects such as California high-speed rail over PTC implementation and secured a commitment to review the practice.
In the wake of a head on collision between a freight train and passenger train in Chatsworth, CA in 2008, Congress passed the Rail Safety Improvement Act, a law requiring implementation of positive train control (PTC) on railroads which carry passengers or have high-volume freight traffic with toxic- or poisonous-by-inhalation hazardous materials. PTC is a communications and signaling system that has been identified by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) as a technology capable of preventing incidents caused by train operator or dispatcher error. PTC is designed to reduce the number of incidents due to excessive speed, conflicting train movements and engineer failure to obey wayside signals.
Under the law PTC is required on about 60,000 miles of railroad track by December 31, 2015. Most railroads will be unable to meet this deadline. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) estimates full PTC implementation will cost approximately $14 billion.
During his questioning of Acting Administrator Feinberg, Rep. Denham asked why the Administration has chosen to dedicate more money to High Speed Rail in California than to the implementation of PTC, noting that most rail roads in California will miss the statutory deadline. The 2009 stimulus bill allocated only $1.8 billion of more than $800 billion to Amtrak nationwide, while providing more than twice that for high speed rail in California.
Rep. Denham asked Acting Administrator Feinberg if FRA would commit to diverting funding as they have in the past to other priorities in order to more quickly implement PTC in California. Administrator Feinberg agreed to look in to the possibility. Previously, roughly $400 million was diverted by the Administration from California High Speed Rail for San Francisco’s Transbay Terminal and additional monies were allocated to other priorities in Los Angeles. California high speed rail dollars have also been spent to electrify Caltrain.
“Safety has to be our top priority. The FRA has been spending billions on California’s high-speed rail project with no way to secure the more than $100 billion still needed to complete the line from Sacramento to San Diego,” said Rep. Denham. “Meanwhile, a needed safety improvement and upgrade is neglected by the Administration in favor of a train to nowhere. After waiting years for the Administration to finalize the Crude-by-Rail rule, it is simply unacceptable that additional safety systems are taking a back seat.”
Today’s hearing included testimony from the Honorable Christopher Hart, Chairman, National Transportation Safety Board; the Honorable Joseph H. Boardman, President and Chief Executive Officer, Amtrak; Ms. Sarah Feinberg, Acting Administrator, Federal Railroad Administration; and Mr. Dennis R. Pierce, National President, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen.