A Congressional mandate that required railroads to install positive train control on trunk lines transporting passengers or hazardous cargoes was supposed to take effect at the end of the year, a deadline that may have been unrealistic.  The railroads, and tenant Passenger Rail authorities, and shippers, have been warning Congress of possible railroad embargoes on hazardous cargoes, all the way to a system shutdown at year's end.

Congress, in the usual end-of-year burst of activity, have avoided that shutdown in the usual way, by packing two essential bills together.  It's instructive, though, how Washington Post reporters frame the story.
The House on Tuesday appended a deadline extension being sought by the railroad industry to a must-pass highway funding bill and approved both, delaying for at least three years a safety measure that could have prevented the Amtrak derailment that killed eight people and injured more than 200 in May.
We have the positive train control mandate because of inattentive engineers, who haven't had sufficient encouragement from the Grumpy Old Road Foreman of Engines to control the speed of the train and pay attention to circumstances.  But I digress.
Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) added the extension for an automatic braking system known as positive train control (PTC) to a highway funding bill, hoping to encourage the Senate to follow suit.

Congress has agreed to extend until Nov. 20 funding for all highway and transit, a measure that must be voted on this week so that money to state and local governments does not expire.
Sometimes, that's the only way to get bills out of the House or through the Senate, and the way in which the bills are combined ensures rent-seeker pressure on wavering senators.

To the Post's reporters, though, it's a chance to suggest that the railroads are exerting undue influence on Members of Congress and slow-walking the implementation of positive train control.
“We need to extend the Positive Train Control deadline as soon as possible to prevent significant disruptions of both passenger and freight rail service across the country,” Shuster said in a statement announcing his plan to marry the highway and PTC extensions. “The sooner we extend this deadline, the more certainty we will give our agricultural, manufacturing, and chemical industries to ensure there will be no supply-chain disruptions.”
Fine. It's easy enough to second-guess and question motives, as long as the chlorine gets through to the waterworks. The prudent course, though, might be to keep the trains running, and establish a feasible deadline later.


David Foster said...

Maybe it would have been better to simply extend the existing ATC technologies based on pulse code signals from the tracks to cover more territory. Or to have restricted to the initial PTC implementation to a relatively small portion of the network, based on traffic.

Stephen Karlson said...

Right, and that would be prudent. But Congress prudent?