Freight train industry to miss safety deadline

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 16, 2014 at 8:08 pm •  Published: April 16, 2014
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Only one-fifth of its track will be equipped with mandatory safety technology to prevent the most catastrophic kinds of collisions and derailments by the deadline set by Congress, the freight railroad industry said Wednesday.

The Association of American Railroads said in a report that about 20 percent of the approximately 60,000 miles of track being equipped with the technology will meet the deadline of Dec. 31, 2015. Previously, the association had estimated 40 percent would meet the deadline.

The association blamed the Federal Communications Commission, saying the FCC is holding up the placement of about 20,000 antennas on track wayside that are necessary to complete installation of the technology, known as positive train control or PTC.

The FCC is requiring railroads ensure that each antenna will not disturb sites of importance to Native Americans. The commission hasn't yet determined how the antennas are to be reviewed, the association said. The majority of the antennas are between 10- and 60-feet tall, and roughly 97 percent are proposed to be located on railroad property.

In January, the FCC proposed an alternative process for 565 federally recognized Native American tribes to review PTC antennas in an effort to speed up approvals.

The safety system uses GPS, wireless radio and computers to monitor train position and speed and to stop trains from colliding, derailing because of excessive speed, entering track where maintenance is being done or going the wrong way because of a switching mistake. It's all aimed at preventing human error, which is responsible for about 40 percent of train accidents.

Congress passed a train safety law in 2008 that requires commuter and freight trains to be equipped with PTC. The impetus for the law was a crash in which a commuter train collided head-on with a freight train near Los Angeles, killing 25 and injuring more than 100.