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First Positive Train Control Collaboration Session

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Remarks Prepared for Delivery by
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao at the
First Positive Train Control Collaboration Session

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Thank you, Ron [Batory, FRA Administrator], for hosting this important gathering of our nation’s railroad leaders, and positive train control experts.

Today is the first of 6 PTC Collaboration Sessions that the Department will convene between now and the end of next year.

As industry moves toward the final PTC deadline of December 31, 2020, these collaboration sessions provide a key opportunity to share information and best practices, and tap the resources and expertise of the FRA’s PTC team.

Before addressing the challenges ahead, let me touch on the challenges that have been overcome. Two years ago, it appeared far from certain that our nation’s PTC-mandated railroads would  complete the requirements associated with the first statutory hurdle of December 31, 2018. In some cases, the sheer volume of work to be completed made it difficult to see a clear pathway to compliance. But thanks to your determination, collaboration and hard work, the FRA watched the “at-risk” list steadily shrink until it was clear that all 41 would make it to the next phase. So, on behalf of the whole Department, thank you!  Thank you for your commitment to safety. And congratulations on what you have achieved:  all 41 railroads succeeded in meeting the first compliance target date!

But as you know, much work remains to be done over the next 23 months. The adoption of PTC systems is the most fundamental change in our country’s rail safety technology since the introduction of automatic train control nearly 100 years ago.

Once fully implemented, PTC will save lives, protect property, and make America’s vast rail network considerably safer. 

That’s why it’s so important that all 41 railroads meet the Congressionally mandated, full implementation deadline of December 31, 2020.  The sooner you get there, the sooner our country will be able to realize all of the safety benefits of PTC.  To that end, I would like to thank the several railroads that have committed to fully implementing PTC systems on their required main lines in advance of December 31, 2020.  I encourage you to head into these next two years with that goal-- to obtain certification and achieve interoperability with your tenant railroads as soon as possible.

As you know, this journey started in 2008, when Congress passed the Rail Safety Improvement Act.  It mandated the implementation of PTC systems on the main lines of Class I railroads where certain hazardous materials are transported.  And it included any main line where there is regularly scheduled intercity, or commuter, rail passenger transportation.  Once it is fully implemented, PTC systems will govern rail operations on approximately 58,000 railroad route miles.

This technology will help prevent:

  • train-to-train collisions,
  • over-speed derailments,
  • the movement of trains through a switch in the wrong position, and
  • also prevent train incursions into established work zones.  

Over the next two years, railroads will continue to face tough choices regarding resource allocation. Some railroads will have to continue putting PTC ahead of other capital projects.  Some of you may have to make temporary reductions in service to facilitate testing, especially as you work through the challenges associated with interoperability.

The Department understands these challenges, and will do whatever it can to help you succeed. The Department has made funding for PTC available through both its grant and loan programs.  In addition, FRA has taken steps to ensure it has the necessary human resources to respond to your needs and turn critical documents around in a timely fashion.  And FRA will continue to collaborate with you in forums like these, and on an individual basis.  Safety is our number one priority.  So we are here to help you succeed!

The role that railroads play in our country cannot be overstated.  You are part of the backbone of our transportation system, which underpins the competitiveness of our economy, and is critical to our country’s quality of life, as well.

I look forward to our continued collaboration over the next two years.  You can count on the Department to be there with you every step of the way, helping you cross the finish line to successful, and full, PTC implementation.

Thank you.