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Washington—Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) joined several colleagues in introducing a bill to establish a reasonable timeline and framework for the implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC), a crash-avoidance rail-safety system that can automatically prevent collisions.

The Positive Train Control Safety Act is cosponsored by Senators Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

Under current law, railroads are required to install the life-saving technology by the end of 2015. However, the Senate Commerce Committee recently approved a bill that would give railroads a five- to-seven year extension. Feinstein’s bill would only allow one-year extensions, on a case-by-case basis, until 2018.

“It has been 45 years since the National Transportation Safety Board first recommended a system of Positive Train Control and seven years since the horrific Metrolink collision near Chatsworth claimed 25 lives, an accident that could have been prevented by PTC,” Feinstein said. “Further unnecessary delay in implementing PTC—especially a blanket delay as proposed by the Commerce Committee—is simply unacceptable. If we have the technology to save lives, we must use it.”

The key provision in the bill allows the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to grant railroads one-year extensions until 2018 on a case-by-case basis. A railroad must submit a revised implementation plan with their extension application.

The FRA may then only grant extensions if the Secretary of Transportation determines that a railroad has demonstrated good faith in their PTC implementation and was delayed due to circumstances beyond their control.

This provision mirrors language already passed with overwhelming support in the Senate in 2012 as part of a transportation reauthorization bill.

The Positive Train Control Safety Act also includes several additional rail safety provisions:

  • Bolsters the transparency of railroads’ implementation efforts by requiring regular status reports.
  • Ensures trains carrying crude oil or ethanol run on tracks with PTC.
  • Requires better coordination between FRA and the Federal Communications Commission to ensure the availability of wireless communications.
  • Requires the Department of Transportation to evaluate the effectiveness of PTC at grade crossings.
  • Improves opportunities for railroad employees to report safety deficiencies.
  • Protects employees in rail work zones.
  • Improves inspection practices on commuter railroads.