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Federal Railroad Administration Awards Ceremony

Monday, April 22, 2019

Remarks Prepared for Delivery by
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao
Federal Railroad Administration Awards Ceremony
Washington, DC
Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Thank you, Ron.

One of the favorite parts of my job is to join these award ceremonies and recognize the work of our career colleagues.

As you know, safety is my number one priority. It is the foundation of everything the Department does. And this is especially true of railroad crossing safety.

Approximately every 4 hours, a train-vehicle collision occurs somewhere in America. And, more than half of all collisions at rail crossings occur where functioning, active warning devices are present.

That's why, on Thursday, April 18th, the Department will relaunch the "Stop. Trains Can't." safety campaign. This important public safety campaign will remind drivers to abide by roadway signage, and respect active warning devices such as flashing lights, bells or closed gates.  So thank you for all your work to improve railway crossing safety and save lives. 

My second priority is rebuilding and refurbishing infrastructure to keep our country productive and competitive, and improve quality of life for everyone.

And my third priority is preparing for the future, by engaging with new, emerging technologies to address legitimate public concerns about safety, security, and privacy without hampering innovation.

The FRA team has worked to advance the implementation of Positive Train Control. After the Rail Safety Improvement Act became law in October 2008, in the eight years between 2009 and 2016, railroads had only implemented PTC on 10,163 of the nearly 57,848 required route miles – or about 18 percent.

From 2017 to today, PTC implementation has been greatly accelerated.   As of the close of 2018, PTC implementation has been completed on 45,933 required route miles – or nearly 80 percent of the total route miles that must be done. 

In just the past two years, that’s an improvement from 16% to 83% for freight, and 24% to 30% for passenger rail.  Similarly, in the eight years between 2008 and 2016, just 9,465 locomotives were equipped with PTC out of a total of 22,577.  During 2017 and 2018, this number rose to 19,595 of the required locomotives in service.  In the last two years, locomotives equipped with PTC increased from 42% to 100% for freight and from 41% to 91% for passenger rail.   

Just 212 track segments were completed in the eight years between 2008 and 2016.  Yet again, in only two years that number shot up to 7580 at the close of 2018.   Between freight and passenger rail, this was a 24-98% improvement for freight and 13-92% for passenger rail.

In the last two years, railroads deemed “at risk” of failing to meet the PTC deadline dropped from 18 to zero. 

While work remains to achieve full implementation over the next 20 months, I am proud of the major milestone FRA achieved last year. Of the 41 PTC-mandated railroads, many were at risk of failing to meet the requirements of last December’s initial deadline. Under Administrator Batory’s leadership – and the hard work of FRA’s expert technical staff – you got all 41 railroads across that first hurdle and on the path to success. Congratulations!

FRA is also one of the leading modes for infrastructure investment. Each year, FRA administers millions of dollars in discretionary grants to improve America’s rail service. FRA has set an example for other modes by highlighting opportunities for private investment in passenger rail.

And, FRA continues to embrace cutting edge technologies. In 2018, you participated in the rollout of AV 3.0 with a Request for Information that garnered thousands of comments. Those comments will guide FRA, as you consider future regulatory actions and reforms for highly-automated train operations.

FRA also introduced a new generation of safety regulations for high speed rail. You began work with the Loop and Hyperloop technologies.  And, you developed an application for autonomous vehicle grade crossing technology. That’s an impressive list of achievements!

Rail was the first transportation mode to cross the entire continent. On May 10th, during Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, I’ll participate in the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad at Promontory Point, Utah. For the first time, the Secretary of Transportation will acknowledge the vital role that Chinese railway workers contributed to this effort. We’ll celebrate the diversity of the workers who made this historic achievement possible, as well as the history of America’s railroads, and the important contribution railroads make to our country’s economic growth and development.  

Rail is involved in every aspect of Americans’ lives. The FRA plays an indispensable role in ensuring that our railways remain safe and productive today and in the future.

So thank you again for all that you do, and a very special congratulations to each of today’s award recipients.