Illinois Democrats Rally Behind Funding for Commuter Lines Implementation of PTC
A trio of Illinois Democrats gathered at Metra's LaSalle Street Station in Chicago to call on Congress to help fund implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC) for commuter rails.
Sen. Dick Durbin, Rep. Mike Quigley (IL-05) and Rep. Dan Lipinski (IL-03)did not call on the Dec. 31, 2015, deadline for PTC implementation to be extended, only that funding should be provided for commuter lines to help them implement the technology.
Rep. Lipinski, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said his office is aware that most commuter and freight railroads will not meet the deadline required and those railroads could face fines of up to $25,000 a day per track segment. He also referenced a comment made by a Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) official during a hearing of the House T&I Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials that the FRA may shut down railroads not in compliance with the PTC mandate.
"Representing a district with a vast number of passenger and freight rail lines, I have always made rail safety a top priority on the Railroad Subcommittee," said Rep. Lipinski. "That is why back in 2008 I included language in a bill to create the Rail Safety Technology Grant program to help railroads install life-saving positive train control more quickly. Unfortunately, Congress never fully-funded this program and commuter railroads like Metra have not been able to implement PTC. That is why I have joined with Rep. Quigley on a bill to reauthorize the grant program and to work together so that Metra can get federal help to install this critical safety technology."
Earlier this year, Reps. Lipinski and Quigley introduced the Reassuring Adequate Investment in Lifesaving Systems (RAILS) Act, which reauthorizes the Rail Safety Technology Grant program and provides $200 million for each of the next five years for PTC safety technologies, rail integrity inspection systems, a system for electronic communication regarding hazardous material rail shipments and other new rail safety items.
"Implementing [PTC] is vitally important to ensuring that our national rail system provides the utmost level of safety for the millions of passengers that use our passenger railroads each year. But the scary thing is that our nation's commuter railroads are much farther behind on implementation than Amtrak," said Rep. Quigley, who is a member of the House Appropriations Committee. "Congress has mandated this important rail safety technology but has refused to fund it. With the deadline for implementation just months away, it's time for Congress to help our commuter railroads employ [PTC] and prevent the kind of tragedies we saw on Amtrak last month."
"Metra has more track than any commuter rail system in the country and 150,000 passengers daily. [PTC] is critical to the safety of these passengers. But Metra – like other commuter rails across this nation – is behind in installing this technology. Our attempts to secure federal funding for PTC have been rejected along party lines and efforts to pass a long-term transportation bill that supports mass transit have met a similar fate...Stagnant funding and start-and-stop extensions aren't much better than letting the authority lapse. The longer we wait to invest in our infrastructure, the more it costs to repair and replace it in the future. And with this uncertainty, the harder it is for Metra to plan for critical upgrades like PTC. We can plan ahead. We can avoid the consequences," Sen. Durbin said.
Rep. Quigley's office notes that implementing PTC in Chicago is a complex task based on the various freight and passenger traffic that occurs in and around the city. Metra, which is targeting 2019 for PTC implementation, has allocated $133 million for PTC but expects full implementation to cost more than $350 million. Metra anticipated state and federal funds to help with the cost, but those sources remain uncertain.
"The commuter and freight rail industries have spent billions of dollars to date on PTC implementation, and although progress has been substantial, much remains to be done before PTC can be safely implemented nationwide," said Metra Chairman Martin Oberman. "Metra supports any Congressional efforts to assist the railroads with this enormous and complex undertaking."
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