Federal mandate for US railroads to install 'positive train control' crash-prevention systems cannot be met by 2015 deadline, AAR president tells House subcommittee, says three more years are needed

WASHINGTON , June 28, 2013 () – A U.S. mandate for railroads to install systems that prevent crashes by 2015 can’t be met for technical and regulatory reasons, trade groups representing freight railroads and public transit agencies said.

The president of the Association of American Railroads, representing companies including CSX Corp. and Burlington Northern Santa Fe, told a House transportation subcommittee today that railroads should be given another three years to install the technology.

Railroads have spent $1.5 billion so far on implementing so-called positive train control, according to an October report by the Federal Railroad Administration. The agency estimated in 2010 it would cost $13.2 billion over 20 years to install and maintain the systems, before amending the rule last year to exempt about 10,000 miles (16,000 kilometers) of lines that don’t carry passengers or toxic materials.

“Does the system work, for both passenger and freight railroads,” AAR’s Edward Hamberger said. “The industry can achieve the objectives of the mandate if they have an implementation schedule that allows the technology to be developed as well as tested and proven.”

A 2008 law enacted after a California train collision killed 25 people requires railroads to install technology that can automatically stop or slow trains.

The American Public Transportation Association, which represents local and regional transit systems, said there is still no off-the-shelf technology available to meet the mandate. Commuter railroads will spend at least $2 billion to equip more than 4,000 locomotives and passenger cars and upgrade 8,500 miles of track.

Congress has appropriated only $50 million to help defray the costs, said Michael Melaniphy, president of the Washington- based transit group. Agencies’ inability to obtain radio spectrum needed to make the communications work is also delaying installation, Melaniphy said.

A U.S. appeals court June 11 threw out a lawsuit by a group of chemical shippers challenging the rule.

--Editors: Bernard Kohn, Steve Geimann

To contact the reporter on this story: Jeff Plungis in Washington at jplungis@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bernard Kohn at bkohn2@bloomberg.net

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