GAO: Railroads on track to miss positive train control deadline


The report, issued Monday, found that Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) is the only major freight railroad on track to meet the deadline set forth in the 2008 Rail Safety Improvement Act (RSIA).

The law requires “positive train control” or PTC technology that can be used to operate trains remotely and override human error. The requirement was approved in the wake of a deadly 2008 crash in Chatsworth, California that killed 25 people.

The engineer, killed in the wreck, was found to have been text messaging at the time of the accident.

The GAO’s investigators concluded that the three other top freight railroads – CSX Corporation, Union Pacific, and Norfolk Southern – would not meet the December 31, 2015 deadline.

Those railroads told the GAO that full implementation was unlikely until 2017 or later. Commuter lines would likely not be able to comply with the regulations until after that.

“Commuter railroads generally must wait to equip their locomotives until freight railroads and Amtrak equip the rail lines that commuter railroads generally operate on,” the report found.

All told, the effort is expected to cost the industry roughly $10 billion, according to estimates cited in the report.

The GAO recommended that Congress amend the RSIA to give railroads additional leeway.

“Specifically, Congress should consider granting FRA (Federal Railroad Association) the authority to extend the deadline on certain rail lines on a case-by-case basis, grant provisional certification of PTC systems, and approve the use of alternative safety technologies in lieu of PTC to improve safety,” GAO asserted in the report.