Railroad News

Railroad Industry Lobbies Congress to Delay Safety Reforms As NTSB Investigation Advises Otherwise

(Washington, DC — April 24, 2012)

In the wake of the April 24 release of a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) analysis of a deadly train collision which happened near Red Oak, IA April 17, 2011, the railroad industry, through its Washington-based lobbying group, The Association of American Railroads, is actively attempting to convince Congress to delay the legislated launch of the Positive Train Control System by five years.

The NTSB’s final report on the April, 2011 Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad collision between two freight trains that resulted in the deaths of two BNSF employees and the derailment of two locomotives and 12 freight cars listed employee fatigue as the primary cause of the tragedy, but NTSB Chair Deborah A. P. Hersman and other officials said that the absence of a positive train control system contributed to the accident. PTC systems are designed to identify the rear of a train and to stop an approaching train if a safe braking distance is exceeded.

But almost simultaneously with the NTSB’s report, the AAR, on behalf of the U.S. railroad industry, has been attempting to achieve a delay of the institution of the same system which the NTSB says could have averted the BNSF collision as well as several others, especially the 2008 California catastrophe that killed 25 and seriously injured another 130 when a distracted locomotive engineer missed a red “stop” signal and ran his loaded Los Angeles Metrolink commuter passenger train into a standing Union Pacific freight train. Current legislation calls for a 2015 activation of PTC where trains carry either passengers or hazardous materials, and the railroads want the effective date to be 2020.

While Patti Reilly of the AAR was calling the deadline “unrealistic,” Congressman Bill Shuster, a Pennsylvania Republican who chairs the House subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Explosives claimed that the institution of PTC “is a prime example of regulatory overreach,” and that it’s institution was “not going to make things safer out there.”

Proponents of the safety measure — which experts estimate will cost the railroads over $10 billion to institute — do not want a delay.  Metrolink Board of Directors Chairman Richard Katz calls PTC “probably the most important innovation in railroad safety that will occur in our lifetime.”

NTSB Chair Hersman, speaking at a conference last year, pointed out that “the human is a weak link,” and that “it’s important to have a system designed to be fail safe. PTC will do that.”

The obvious is that railroads continue to balk at responsibility for public and employee safety, placing low priority on the preservation of human life and a high priority on profits.