House moves to delay deadline for automating the nation's railways

House moves to delay deadline for automating the nation's railways
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Lawmakers in the House are moving to extend a federal deadline for automating trains that most railroads say they will not be able to meet. 

A bipartisan measure has been introduced in the lower chamber that would push back the deadline for most railroads to install automated train technology until December 2018. The bill is known as the Positive Train Control Enforcement and Implementation Act of 2015 (H.R. 3651).

Supporters of the measure say the extension is necessary to prevent an interruption in passenger and freight rail service at the end of the year. 

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"Completion of the Positive Train Control mandate by the end of the year is not achievable, and extending the deadline is essential to preventing significant disruptions of both passenger and freight rail service across the country,” House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill ShusterWilliam (Bill) Franklin ShusterEx-GOP Rep. Roskam joins lobbying firm Anti-corruption group hits Congress for ignoring K Street, Capitol Hill 'revolving door' Republicans spend more than million at Trump properties MORE (R-Pa.) said in a statement.  

“Railroads must implement this important but complicated safety technology in a responsible manner, and we need to give them the necessary time to do so.”

Railroads currently have until Dec. 31 to install the Positive Train Control automated navigation system — which regulates the speed and track movements of trains — under a mandate that was set in the aftermath of a 2008 commuter rail crash in California. 

Several rail companies have warned they will shut down service in January 2016 to avoid fines for not meeting the deadline. 

Democrats on the House Transportation Committee said they are reluctantly supporting the extension of the automated train deadline to prevent a widespread interruption in train service.

"Over the years, numerous accidents could have been prevented had PTC been installed," said Rep. Peter DeFazioPeter Anthony DeFazioThe House Democrats who voted to kill impeachment effort The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition - Deadline approaches for 2020 Dems Dems eye big infrastructure package, with or without Trump MORE (Ore.), who is the ranking Democrat on the panel. 

"Unfortunately, according to the Federal Railroad Administration and the GAO, nearly every railroad will fail to meet the deadline set back in 2008," DeFazio continued. "This one-time extension is now a necessity to prevent disruptions to rail service across the nation and to ensure that PTC will finally be fully implemented. Stakeholders must use this time to get PTC online as soon as possible — Congress will not accept any more delays." 

Democrats in the Senate were critical of the House effort, however.

"It has been more than 45 years since the National Transportation Safety Board first urged railroads to implement positive train control — an unacceptable delay in implementation of this critical, life-saving technology that has allowed numerous, preventable tragedies," Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said in a statement.

"Instead, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s bill provides a blanket extension to 2018, a troubling move considering that some railroads are on track to meet the current deadline," Blumenthal continued. "Extensions should be granted only to railroads that have demonstrated diligent, good faith efforts to meet the mandate. Only by holding railroads’ feet to the fire will this critical, life-saving technology finally be implemented.”

The House measure to extend the PTC deadline until December 2018 will allow the Transportation Department to grant exemptions to individual rail companies "if railroads demonstrate they are facing continued difficulties in completing the mandate, but have made every effort to install Positive Train Control as soon as possible."

Railroads would have to report on their progress with the PTC installation under the proposed legislation.   

— This story was updated at 3:47 p.m.