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PTC Information Symposium

Proposed Remarks for Delivery by
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao
PTC Information Symposium
Washington, DC
Friday, June 15, 2018

Thank you, Ron (Batory, FRA Administrator), for hosting this important gathering of our nation’s railroad leaders and positive train control experts.  This symposium represents an important aspect of what the Department does:  facilitating information sharing and promoting best practices across the modes – especially with emerging technologies.

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

As Secretary, I’ve laid out 3 priorities for the Department of Transportation: safety, infrastructure and preparing for the future.  PTC incorporates all of them. First and foremost, PTC is a safety system that will save lives.  PTC implementation also represents a radical transformation of our rail infrastructure – taking 20th century technology and overlaying it with a 21st century system that will likely serve as the base platform for further innovation and improvements to rail safety, and efficiency.

Once fully implemented, PTC will be a net positive for America’s railroads – one which will pave the way to more improvements in years to come.  But getting to that point is, as you well know --  a big, expensive undertaking.

In 2008, Congress passed the Rail Safety Improvement Act, which mandated that railroads implement PTC systems on the main lines of Class I railroads where certain hazardous materials are transported and on any main line where there is regularly scheduled intercity or commuter rail passenger transportation.  Once fully implemented, PTC systems will govern rail operations on approximately 60,000 route miles in this country.

The technology-neutral mandate requires that PTC systems be designed to: prevent train-to-train collisions, prevent over-speed derailments, prevent the movement of trains through a switch in the wrong position, and also prevent train incursions into established work zones. In the past 18 months, there have been serious train incidents involving at least 2 of those PTC-preventable scenarios.    

PTC implementation needs to be your top priority and everything possible needs to be done to get compliant by the deadline.  In the coming months, there will be tough choices on top of the tough decisions you’ve already made. Some railroads will have to continue putting PTC ahead of other capital projects; some may have to make temporary but painful reductions to service; and some may have to make painful decisions about service routes or fleet that impact the operations of the railroad.

None of these decisions will be easy, and they won’t be popular, but as I wrote to all of you last December: compliance with the law must be the single most important factor that impacts your decision-making through the rest of 2018 and beyond.

Some of the railroads in this room made a decision to prioritize PTC implementation.  Others did not, for a variety of reasons.  There are many factors beyond the control of everyone in this room that have influenced railroad decision-making over the last 10 years – especially for our commuter railroads.

What matters most today, at this symposium, is that we learn from each other.  And use this opportunity to engage with the experts at the FRA.  It’s our commitment over the next 6 months that will decide who gets across that implementation finish line on December 31st.  And by the way – our expectation is that all railroads will get across that finish line!

You have our full commitment to do whatever we can to help you succeed. The Department has made funding for PTC available through our grant programs; FRA has taken steps to ensure it has the necessary human resources to respond to your needs and turn documents around in a timely fashion; and we will continue to collaborate with you both in forums like this symposium and on an individual basis.

Rail is so important to our country. Represented in this room is the backbone of our nation’s rail network. You move America’s goods and commodities. You move millions of Americans between cities for business and pleasure, and you carry tens of millions of Americans between work and home, every single day. You play a tremendous role in the economic vitality of our country and in the quality of Americans’ lives.

And that is why we ask you to recommit yourselves to this challenge. Please double-down on your efforts. Lend another railroad a helping hand. It is in everyone’s interest for everyone to be in compliance on December 31, 2018.

Thank you.

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Updated: Friday, June 15, 2018
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