Railroads defend automated train delay

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Railroads are defending a delay in the implementation of automated train technology after the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) included it on its wish list for 2016 safety improvements. 

The NTSB called for the installation of automated train technology known as positive train control that would prevent passenger and freight rail crashes to be completed as soon as possible in its annual "Most Wanted" list released on Wednesday.

The mandate for technology to fully implemented nationwide was delayed until 2020 by Congress last year. 

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The Association of American Railroads (AAR) said the three-year automated delay is a reasonable extension that gives railroads more time to comply with the new federal rules. 

“The freight rail industry shares the NTSB’s commitment to safety as our industry is working as quickly as possible to get PTC installed across the country and providing the additional safety benefits it is designed to do," the group said in a statement that was provided to The Hill.  

"Positive Train Control is a full-time focus of the freight rail industry and we are committed to getting the technology fully installed by 2018 with any final testing for full coast-to-coast operations completed by 2020, in accordance with the extension, which ensures PTC is safely and effectively tested nationwide," the group continued. 

The NTSB said Wednesday that Congress should have forced railroad companies to meet the original 2015 deadline for installing the automated train system. 

“Every PTC-preventable accident, death, and injury on tracks and trains affected by the law will be a direct result of the missed 2015 deadline and the delayed implementation of this life-saving technology,” NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart said in a statement as he was unveiling the NTSB's 2016 "Most Wanted" list.

The mandate was set after a commuter rail crash in California in 2008, but railroads successfully lobbied lawmakers last year to give them more time. 

The AAR said the automated system has been more complicated to install than lawmakers and regulators initially expected when the mandate was first signed into law in 2008. 

“The reality is this technology is not-off-the shelf, it had to be developed from scratch and isn’t just about plugging in or turning on components, it is a complex step-by-step process, both in terms of safety engineering and implementation," the group said. 

"The freight rail industry’s emphasis since 2008 has been to make sure PTC is done right, which is why field-testing is essential for safely deploying the technology and is a critical focus for the rail industry," the group continued. "The importance of proper testing is underscored with the industry experiencing failure rates of up to 40 percent as railroads install and test PTC equipment.”