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Background: Positive Train Control Enforcement and Implementation Act of 2015


Under the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, as amended by the Positive Train Control Enforcement and Implementation Act of 2015 (PTCEI Act), Congress requires Class I railroads and entities providing regularly scheduled intercity or commuter rail passenger transportation to implement PTC systems on certain main lines by December 31, 2018. See Title 49 United States Code (U.S.C.) § 20157. If a railroad meets all statutory criteria required for a deadline extension, the PTCEI Act requires DOT or FRA, by delegation, to approve a railroad’s request for a limited extension to complete certain non-hardware, operational aspects of PTC system implementation no later than December 31, 2020. See 49 U.S.C. § 20157(a)(3)(A)–(D); 49 CFR § 1.89.

To date, eight of the 37 railroads required to implement PTC systems on their own tracks have obtained conditional PTC System Certification from FRA. In total, 41 railroads are subject to the statutory PTC implementation mandate and must implement FRA-certified PTC systems by the December 31, 2018, deadline, unless a railroad obtains a limited deadline extension.

Twelve railroads have completed installation of all hardware necessary for PTC system implementation. Another 12 railroads report having installed less than 50 percent of the hardware required for their PTC systems, as of September 30, 2017.

Twenty-six railroads have begun field testing PTC systems on segments of track. Data submitted by railroads show that PTC systems are in operation on 45 percent of the required route miles of track owned by freight railroads and 24 percent of the route miles of track owned by passenger railroads, as of September 30, 2017.

During calendar year 2017, FRA took significant action to ensure that railroads implement PTC systems in a timely and safe manner, including assessing civil penalties against certain railroads that failed to complete hardware installation milestones they scheduled to complete during calendar year 2016 in their PTC Implementation Plans. FRA also sent letters of concern to railroads and certain state officials, including state DOTs and state governors, regarding certain railroads’ failure to complete end-of-2016 hardware installation milestones and railroads that had installed less than 50 percent of all hardware required for their PTC systems as of December 31, 2016.

Since 2008, when Congress first mandated PTC systems on certain railroad main lines, DOT and FRA have provided other assistance to support railroads’ implementation of PTC systems. Those efforts include:

  • Closing a $162 million Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act loan and a $220 million Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing loan on December 8, 2017, to be issued to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority for PTC system implementation; 
  • Providing approximately $925 million in grants to support railroads’ implementation of PTC systems, including nearly $400 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding, $25 million in fiscal year 2016 Railroad Safety Technology Program funding, and $197 million in FAST Act grant funding in fiscal year 2017 to 17 commuter and intercity railroads and state and local governments for installation of PTC systems;
  • Issuing a nearly $1 billion loan to the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority to implement PTC systems on the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad;
  • Building a PTC testbed at the Transportation Technology Center in Pueblo, Colorado;
  • Working directly with the Federal Communications Commission and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation to improve the approval process for PTC communication towers; and
  • Establishing a PTC task force as well as expanding engineering resources to review designs, witness testing, monitor performance, evaluate PTC systems for type approval, and approve statutorily required technical submissions, including safety plans necessary for PTC System Certification.
Last updated: Tuesday, January 2, 2018