March 6, 2015 9:55 AM, EST

Senate Bill Would Delay Positive Train Control For Five Years

Pete Marovich/Bloomberg News

U.S. Senator Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) has introduced a bill that would delay the implementation of positive train control systems for American railroads until 2020.

The Railroad Safety and Positive Train Control Extension Act was introduced March 4 by Blunt and three Senate co-sponsors: Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and John Thune (R-S.D.), Commerce Committee chairman.

Nelson is the ranking member on Commerce. Blunt and McCaskill are committee members.

Blunt said in a March 5 statement that everything must be done to improve train safety and accident prevention “without burdening” the freight and passenger rail industry.

“Unmanageable deadlines could result in higher costs and a disruption of service,” Blunt said.

The National Transportation Safety Board has put PTC, as positive train control is known, on its annual Most Wanted List of policy and action issues it wants this year.

PTC safety systems, designed to stop or slow trains to avoid some crashes, are to be installed by the end of this year but the railroads have said they can’t meet that federal mandate.

“While the freight rail industry has spent $5.2 billion to date on PTC and progress has been substantial, much remains to be done before PTC can safely operate coast to coast,” Edward R. Hamberger, president of the Association of American Railroads, said in a statement thanking the senators for introducing the bill.

Their proposal recognizes that “the existing mandate to have a fully interoperable, nationwide PTC system tested and safely operating by the end of 2015 is simply not possible and must be changed,” Hamberger said.

The bill, if approved, would allow for “a reasonable and responsible extension” and give freight and passenger rail carriers the time needed to install and test PTC, he said.