Feds probing implementation of train safety technology

Feds probing implementation of train safety technology
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A federal watchdog is probing how railroads are implementing train safety technology amid concern that some systems are not moving fast enough to meet an upcoming federal deadline.

The Department of Transportation’s inspector general announced this week that the office is conducting a new audit to explore how railroads are using federal funds to install Positive Train Control (PTC).

The oversight effort was requested by Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Overnight Health Care: 3.6M signed up for ObamaCare in first month | Ryan pledges 'entitlement reform' next year | Dems push for more money to fight opioids Dems push for more money for opioid fight MORE (R-S.D.), chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

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PTC, which will eventually be required by law, automatically slows a train that is going over the speed limit and can prevent derailments, collisions and improper track switching.

Congress originally gave commuter and freight railroads until the end of 2015 to install the potentially live-saving technology. But as railroads struggled to meet compliance deadlines, lawmakers pushed back the PTC implementation date to at least Dec. 31, 2018, with the option for a two-year extension.

The lack of PTC has come under a spotlight in the wake of deadly train crashes that have occurred since lawmakers moved back the deadline, and Congress may be reluctant to do so again.

Railroads have slowly been making progress in installing PTC, but the latest data from the Federal Railroad Administration shows some are still lagging behind. The technology is operational along 27 percent of freight-rail route miles and 23 percent of passenger-rail route miles, as of the first three months of this year.

One of the chief obstacles for rail systems is the cost of implementing the technology. The federal government has kicked in $915 million in federal grants to assist passenger railroads with installing the technology, as well as provided a $1 billion loan to the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority.