Happening Now

Passengers Decry Another Manufactured Crisis As Safety Technology Deadline Looms

September 23, 2015

Release #15-21

For Immediate Release (#15-21)

Contact: Sean Jeans-Gail


Passengers Decry Another Manufactured Crisis As Safety Technology Deadline Looms

Warn Congress to Pass PTC Extension Before Damage is Done

Washington, D.C.— Responding to the Senate’s decision to move a stopgap budget proposal extending the deadline for implementing Positive Train Control (PTC), the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) is calling on Congress to pass a long-term surface transportation act to ensure America’s train passengers aren’t left stranded at the station come January 1.

"PTC is a life-saving technology, and it absolutely must be implemented,” said NARP President and CEO Jim Mathews. “However, it is clear that most railroads will not meet the deadline, so we must do everything in our power to guarantee that the trains are still running in 2016. Trains are still one of the safest ways to travel, and forcing people off the rails and on to overcrowded highways makes our nation less safe and our economy less productive. What we’re seeing now is the manufacturing process for an artificial crisis. Our transportation systems face enough challenges without creating new ones to fix.”

“Fortunately, the solution is easy: the full Congress must pass the long-term surface transportation bill the Senate passed in July,” said Mathews. “This bill not only contains a reasonable PTC extension, it also contains a number of extremely promising provisions that—with the proper funding levels—could be used to build the efficient intermodal transportation network that American businesses will need to compete globally in the 21st Century.”

Congressional leaders had promised to use the Continuing Resolution as a vehicle to extend the deadline for implementing PTC, an important lifesaving safety technology that serves as a layer of redundancy against human error. PTC is a critical life-saving technology that is long overdue; the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has identified it as a necessary safety technology since 1969, and NTSB investigators stated it would have prevented the deadly derailment of Amtrak 188 north of Philadelphia in May 2015.

Given the scope of the technical challenges of installing a seamless technology across 40 railroads covering 68,000 miles of track—coupled with a severe lack of funding for Amtrak and commuter railroads to implement the safety mandate—it has been long understood that most railroads would not meet the January 1, 2016 deadline for beginning operations. NARP submitted a path for responsible extension of the deadline to Congress in February 2015, and has been warning about the consequences of failing to extend the deadline for months. These warnings were underscored by a September 2015 report issued by the Government Accountability Office, which warned that most railroads are not capable of meeting the deadline.

Now, a host of rail operators across the country—including New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Chicago’s Metra—warn they will be forced to halt passenger and freight service on January 1. That would hurt everyone from Amtrak long-distance customers on their holiday to commuter rail passengers trying to get to work. Given the complex logistics involved, draw-down planning could begin as early as next month, including service discontinuation notices to passengers.

The DRIVE Act (H.R. 22) includes a three-year extension, requires railroads that use the extension to submit an updated implementation plan, and creates a strong Federal Railroad Administration role in reviewing and approving the plans. It also provides almost $200 million in much-needed funding for positive train control implementation.

About the National Association of Railroad Passengers

NARP is the only national organization speaking for the users of passenger trains and rail transit. We have worked since 1967 to expand the quality and quantity of passenger rail in the U.S. Our mission is to work towards a modern, customer-focused national passenger train network that provides a travel choice Americans want. Our work is supported by more than 28,000 individual members nationwide.