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FRA

Legacy ID
8096

The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA)

Statement of

Joseph C. Szabo
Federal Railroad Administrator

Before The

Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
United States House of Representatives

October 14, 2009

Chairwoman Brown, Ranking Member Shuster and members of the Subcommittee: I am honored to appear before you today to discuss one of the most significant new initiatives of President Obama, Vice President Biden, and Secretary of Transportation LaHood – the development of high-speed rail transportation in America, which builds upon the solid foundation laid by Congress last year in the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA). In this statement I will touch on the opportunities and challenges we, the Administration, the Congress and a diverse group of stakeholders, face in creating a sustainable program to improve intercity passenger mobility in the United States and what FRA is doing today to make the vision for high-speed rail a reality.

Discussions of high-speed rail tend to begin with the fundamental question: “What is high-speed rail?” Some prefer to define high-speed by peak speed –say 200 miles-per-hour (mph). Some will say high-speed is average speed or trip time. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), in its 1997 report “High-Speed Ground Transportation for America" used a more market oriented definition – that is service that can cost effectively be the preferred option for intercity travel in a specific transportation market. Using that definition, high-speed rail is service that is superior from a time-competitive stand point than air and/or auto on a door-to-door basis. In other words, if I leave my home in Chicago and travel to a meeting in St. Louis and the total trip time by rail is better than flying or driving, then that rail service is high-speed. What that means is that the peak speeds and average speeds of high-speed rail are not one set number but can and should vary by the market served. The speeds needed to effectively serve the Los Angeles to San Francisco market, a distance of 450 miles is different from the speeds needed to effectively serve the market between Washington, D.C. and Richmond, VA., a distance of 90 miles.

In the Administration’s Vision for High-Speed Rail in America we used four definitions for the multiple types of intercity passenger rail that we will see in the future:

  • Conventional Rail – Traditional intercity passenger rail services of more than 100 miles with peak speeds in the 79 mph to 90 mph range.
  • Emerging High-Speed Rail – Developing corridors of 100-500 miles in length with top speeds in the 90-110 mph range
  • High-Speed Rail-Regional – Relatively frequent service between major and moderate population centers 100-500 miles apart with top speeds in the 110-150 mph range
  • High-Speed Rail –Express with frequent service between major population centers 200-600 miles apart with few intermediate stops and top speeds in excess of 150 mph.
  • Ensure safe and efficient transportation choices. Promote the safest possible movement of goods and people, and optimize the use of existing and new transportation infrastructure.
  • Promote energy efficiency and environmental quality. Reinforce efforts to foster energy independence and renewable energy, and reduce pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Build a foundation for economic competitiveness. Lay the groundwork for near-term and ongoing economic growth by facilitating efficient movement of people and goods, while renewing critical domestic manufacturing and supply industries. This strengthening of domestic manufacturing is particularly critical today as evidenced by the severe atrophy affecting the U.S. rail supply industry. A long-term market for railroad equipment, infrastructure and supplies will help rebuild this once proud part of the American economy.
  • Support interconnected livable communities. Improve quality of life in local communities by promoting affordable, convenient, and sustainable housing, energy, and transportation options.

Thus, in discussing how we make high-speed rail a reality we need to be talking about a range of technologies and a range of investment options that each have their own sets of opportunities and challenges.

That is not to say that high-speed rail is preferable in all situations to air and/or auto. Indeed each has and will have an important place in the transportation system of our future. High-speed rail will only be successful as part of an integrated, intermodal transportation system that includes effective connections to our transit, highway and aviation systems.

High-Speed Rail – the Opportunities

President Obama proposes to help address the Nation’s transportation challenges by investing in an efficient, high-speed passenger rail network of 100-600 mile intercity corridors that connect communities across America. The vision for high-speed rail aligns well with the Department’s strategic goals:

I wish to offer one of many possible examples where these opportunities come together. FRA has been working with the California High-Speed Rail Authority since 2001 on the planning and environmental review of California’s State-wide high-speed rail initiative. The Final Environmental Impact Statement/Report for the California High-Speed Rail Program has been completed and is available for review[1]. This document is one of the most comprehensive environmental analyses of a new transportation system ever undertaken and helps crystallize the opportunities offered by the development of high-speed rail. Among the benefits of high-speed rail investment when compared to alternatives for meeting the identified travel demand are:

Transportation Investment requirements Avoided

  • 2,970 lane-miles of highway construction no longer needed.
  • Five runways and 90 gates at airports
  • Annual Energy/oil consumption saved
  • 6 – 12 million barrels per day
  • Annual Air Pollution avoided
  • 3.4 – 5.5 million tons of carbon emissions
  • 730 tons of PM10
  • 1,095 tons of PM2.5
  • 3,650 tons of NOx
  • 2,190 tons of TOG

Employment

  • 168,000 job-years during construction
  • 450,000 permanent jobs created from economic effect.

Access to Service

  • Major cities in California will be served through downtown intermodal terminals, integrated in the city and region’s public transportation systems.

California happens to be the most recent EIS that FRA has completed on high-speed rail and is used as an illustrative example and should not be construed as an indication we favor one project over another. Such benefits can be realized from proposed high-speed rail projects across the country.

High-Speed Rail – the Challenges

While the potential for high-speed rail is great, so too are the challenges we face in delivering on that potential. FRA sees a number of pressing challenges in developing a successful high-speed rail program:

Safety

FRA’s first and foremost mission is Safety. If high-speed rail is to be successful, it must be safe. Newton’s second law of motion, that force equals mass times acceleration (f=ma) has significant implications for the safety of high-speed rail. When things go wrong at high speed, a derailment as an example, the repercussions can be very significant. Many point to the strong safety record of foreign systems operating primarily on purpose-built infrastructure to draw a conclusion that high-speed rail is inherently safe. That is just not the case. Safety comes from superior design, superior manufacturing, superior operating practices, superior maintenance and above all superior vigilance. At FRA, we call this a strong safety culture. This will be particularly needed in the U.S. where, in most instances, high-speed rail will not begin operations on dedicated right-of-way and infrastructure. Instead, most proposed systems will involve the use of rights-of-way and perhaps infrastructure owned and operated by America’s freight railroads. The co-location of high-speed rail and freight operations raises significant safety issues, not the least of which is determining what point high-speed passenger rail operations need to be separated from freight rail and the nature of that separation. Ultimately this will likely not be a “one size fits all” type determination but reflect such issues as volume of freight and passenger traffic, train, infrastructure condition, etc.

Capability of the States

A handful of States have been actively engaged in railroad issues for many years. As an example, if you go on the North Carolina DOT website you will see a rail bureau with 60 positions. Unfortunately, States with a strong and experienced rail-oriented institutional structure capable of undertaking the planning, developing the complex relationships, and implementing a complex rail improvement program are the exception rather than the rule. This is understandable. Up until just recently, the Federal role in passenger rail investment was overwhelmingly a bi-polar relationship between FRA and Amtrak. Until enactment of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act last October, there was no statutory role for States in the planning and implementation of intercity passenger rail except for the occasional one-off grant contained in FRA’s annual appropriation. Until February of this year, there was no real funding to go with this authorization. There is now a significant and pressing need to help the States develop and maintain the internal staff resources and capabilities to oversee the management of planning and program implementation of high-speed rail and to be effective negotiators and partners with the various stakeholders that will be essential to successful implementation. Over time, States have developed such resources for the highway and transit programs but rail is sufficiently different that it will take time and effort for many States to develop these skills for rail.

The Status of Planning

The Recovery Act has provided a stark contrast between the established highway and transit programs and the new high-speed rail initiative. States have a well established pipeline of highway and transit projects that have undergone years of planning, design and environmental review. Thus, when the opportunities were offered by the Recovery Act for additional funding, the States were able to turn to a list of highway and transit projects. While some States had undertaken planning and had some projects that could begin in the short-term, most States had not undertaken the development of a detailed service development plan with the accompanying service, or Tier 1 documentation required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for the larger development of a high-speed rail corridor. Again this is understandable. While the surface transportation legislation has over the last several decades provided States and regions funding for planning, this planning has been primarily focused on those programs – highway and transit – that offered the potential of a Federal funding partner at the end of the planning process. The States that are better prepared today are those that decided that improved passenger rail was so important to meeting the State’s future mobility needs that they invested substantial State funding in the planning for these new services. The challenge we face with the advent of the high-speed rail program is that there are many States playing catch-up. How can we bring them up to the point that they have a realistic high-speed program plan and implementation strategy so that they too can have the pipeline of rail projects like they have for other forms of transportation?

Freight Railroad Partnerships

America’s freight railroad system is the envy of the world. The Obama Administration is committed to building a world class high-speed intercity passenger rail system but we will not do that at the expense of degrading our world class freight rail system. Until just a couple of years ago, America’s freight railroads were hauling record levels of freight traffic on a system substantially smaller than half a century ago. In a number of critical areas, bottlenecks in rail infrastructure were creating congestion in freight movements. And, as this Subcommittee is well aware, the ability of Amtrak to maintain an on-time reliable service over this intensely used freight system left much to be desired. On a rail infrastructure designed primarily for freight train movements, fast passenger trains can use up more capacity than if those trains were replaced by freight trains. The challenge that we face is how to develop the infrastructure that permits emerging high-speed rail and freight rail to not only co-exist but to find the synergy to keep both world class. This will require a new level of partnerships between the freight railroads and the State promoters of high-speed rail. Several States have recognized the growing benefits that accrue from investment in privately-owned rights-of-way and infrastructure. For many States used to solely investing in publicly owned infrastructure, however, the shift to investing public funds in privately-owned assets may be a new and challenging experience.

The Intellectual Infrastructure

Once the rail industry was a major driving force of the U.S. economy. It employed thousands of planners, engineers and other experts in railroad engineering and sciences. After World War II, as the railroads first slipped into the financial abyss of the 1960s and 1970s and then went through a recovery period by slimming down, the demand for engineers and planners with rail expertise plummeted. A substantial percentage of the experienced people in these professions are approaching retirement. A major challenge that we face today at the advent of the new high-speed rail program is rebuilding this intellectual infrastructure in such diverse areas as track design, signal engineering, track-train dynamics, etc. This will require a new partnership among the Federal and State DOTs, the larger rail industry and the academic community.

Sustainability and Managing Expectations

There have been many efforts to promote development of high-speed rail over the years. Indeed, one of the entities that were merged in 1967 to form the Federal Railroad Administration was the Office of High-Speed Ground Transportation that had been established in the Department of Commerce. To date, however, with a very few notable exceptions, these efforts have not been successful. Secretary LaHood and I believe that if we spend the $8 billion in Recovery Act funds really well on terrific projects that produce real results but the program meets the fate of the previous efforts and does not continue, then we have not been successful. The challenge for us – the Administration and the Congress – is to find a way to make this program sustainable. The model I like to point to is the model developed by President Eisenhower and the Congress of the mid-1950s that led to the successful development of the National System of Interstate and Defense highways – a program that took over four decades to complete.

An integral part of developing a sustainable program will be managing expectations. The interest by the States in the high-speed program far exceeds the funds available today, or next year or over the next five years. But this was true of the Interstate Highway program at its beginning as well. The public support for the program did not wane, in part because our citizens could both see early successes and they knew that eventually the Interstate system would serve them as well. Of all of our challenges, this may be the most important to address.

What FRA is Doing to Make High-Speed Rail a Reality

This past June I had the opportunity to meet with the Subcommittee and review FRA’s progress in implementing the Recovery Act including the “standing up” of the high-speed rail program. At that time I was able to report that we had met the deadlines set in the Recovery Act and published the Obama Administration’s Vision for High-Speed Rail in America (April 2009) and High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail (HSIPR) Program Notice of Funding Availability, Issuance of Interim Program Guidance (June 2009). Both documents are available on FRA’s website: www.FRA.DOT.GOV.

On August 24, we received applications for projects that are “ready to go”, including some projects for preliminary engineering and environmental review, and would be funded from the funds made available under the Recovery Act; projects for high-speed intercity passenger rail planning funded from FRA’s FY 2009 appropriation; and projects for capital improvements funded from FRA’s FY 2009 appropriation. There were a total of 214 applications received, representing projects proposed in 34 States and totaling approximately $7 billion. Those projects have been through a very intense period of first level reviews by staff of FRA along with volunteers from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and the Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RIITA) to whom we are grateful for their help. The results of these reviews are presently being evaluated at the senior leadership levels of FRA and the Department.

On September 16 we received expressions of interest for private sector participation in the development of high-speed intercity passenger service pursuant to a notice FRA published last December to implement the provisions of Section 502 of the PRIIA. These applications are currently under review, consistent with the statutory requirement that initial reviews be completed by the Department by mid-November.

On October 2, we received applications for what will amount to commitments to develop specific high-speed rail corridors. Our preliminary analysis shows that we received 45 applications representing 24 States totaling approximately $50 billion. FRA is currently undertaking a triage of these applications to eliminate duplicates and ineligible applicants and projects. Our preliminary review shows that the numbers presented above should be close to the final. Detailed review of applications by panels of FRA staff and volunteers from other modes of the Department will begin in earnest next week.

Our overriding goal in evaluating these applications is the development of a sustainable and truly national high-speed intercity passenger rail investment program. Due to the overwhelming response, our need to assure coordination among the various FRA programs and between the FRA programs and the Tiger Grant program being managed in the Secretary’s immediate office, we will be announcing all awards this winter. Our selections will be merit based and reflect President Obama’s vision to remake America’s transportation landscape.

FRA is also moving forward to addressing the other challenges important to developing a sustainable high-speed intercity passenger rail investment program.

Safety: FRA has recently made available for comment a draft High-Speed Passenger Rail Safety Strategy which is appended to this testimony. The goal of this strategy is to lay out how FRA will: establish safety standards and program guidance for high-speed rail; apply a system safety approach to address safety concerns on specific rail lines; and, ensure that railroads involved in passenger train operations can effectively and efficiently manage train emergencies. This strategy endeavors to achieve uniformly safe rail passenger service, regardless of speed.

Capability of the States: FRA is lucky to have someone like Karen Rae, who has had a long and distinguished career in transportation program management in several States, to play a leadership role in the design of the new high-speed program. Under her leadership we have engaged the States early and often and have committed to a continuing effort on the part of FRA in developing and enhancing the ability of the States to get involved in high-speed rail. Attached to my statement are two unsolicited statements concerning FRA’s outreach activities. I would take particular note of the statement from the chair of the Capitol Corridor (CA) Joint Power Authority that says “We know of no other federal agency that has asked its customers (the states and intercity passenger rail agencies) for comments, suggestions and even criticisms on the HSIPR Program funding applications and award criteria BEFORE (emphasis in original) any awards were made or applications received. This is an excellent example of how government should work ….”

Status of Planning: FRA has on our website a “how to” manual for the development of service development or transportation investment plans. This is based upon FRA’s previous experience in the planning of specific corridors in which all interested parties came to the table to work cooperatively in identifying investment needs. While FRA cannot and should not plan every corridor, we are a resource to facilitate the development of processes that can lead to successful completion of corridor wide service development plan and related environmental documents.

Freight Railroads: Freight railroads will be key to the successful development of high-speed intercity passenger rail in many corridors. Indeed, FRA’s grant guidance requires that applications demonstrate the stakeholders’ commitments, including that of the host railroad/infrastructure owner, to advance the high-speed intercity passenger rail program. FRA believes that there are opportunities to develop constructive partnerships between the freight railroads and States that can address areas of common interest including statutory requirements for positive train control and the safety at highway rail grade crossings. By placing a premium on such cooperative relationships FRA believes that we can facilitate their development. We also see our safety and research activities as complementary parts of this effort.

Intellectual Infrastructure: FRA is very concerned that this Nation has the people that can deliver on a successful high-speed rail program for the foreseeable future. As part of the President’s FY 2010 budget request, FRA proposed that 1% of the high-speed intercity passenger rail funds be available for research. Our first and highest priority for the use of these funds is the establishment of the Rail Cooperative Research Program (RCRP) at the Transportation Research Board of the National Academy of Sciences. The RCRP was authorized in PRIIA as a necessary counterpart to the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) and the Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP). These programs have helped these modes of transportation develop the corps of trained professionals they rely on. We are also exploring other opportunities of using research, including the use of University Transportation Centers managed by RITA to help in this effort.

FRA’s short term needs

As I said in a hearing before you this past June, FRA’s financial assistance staff today is sized for that earlier, quieter era. Even though the PRIIA added a number of responsibilities in the areas of passenger rail and financial assistance to FRA, that Act did not authorize an expansion of FRA’s financial assistance staff. That they have produced high quality products in response to the aggressive schedule in the Recovery Act, is a testament to knowledge, skill and dedication of that small staff. Having said that, we cannot successfully manage the high-speed rail program envisioned by the President and implement the provisions of PRIIA and undertake our other new and expanded financial assistance functions contained in other recent Acts with the present levels of staff and other resources. The President’s FY 2010 budget begins to address FRA’s financial assistance staff and resource needs. I urge members of this Committee to support this request. I will also note that successful implementation of the Recovery Act including oversight of the expenditure of $8 billion, will require that the amount of these funds available for use by the Secretary in project oversight be consistent with the 1% authorized in 49 U.S.C. 24403(b)(1) and not the one quarter of one percent authorized in the Recovery Act.

Conclusion

The FRA of two years from now will be a significantly different agency than you see today. Safety will always be our most important mission, but we will also be playing a leading role in making the investments that position this country’s transportation system for the future. I am incredibly proud to be at FRA today and have an opportunity to lead the dedicated team at FRA through this transformation.

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[1] Available on the CAHSR website at CAHighSpeed Rail.ca.

The Development of High-Speed Rail Transportation in America

Statement of

Joseph C. Szabo
Administrator
Federal Railroad Administration

To

The Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security
Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
United States Senate

June 23, 2009

 

Chairman Lautenberg, Senator Thune, and members of the Subcommittee: I am honored to appear before you today on behalf of President Obama, Vice President Biden, and Secretary of Transportation LaHood, to discuss one of our Administration’s most important initiatives – the development of high-speed rail transportation in America. To supplement this testimony, I wish to incorporate by reference two recent publications of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA): Vision for High-Speed Rail in America (April 2009) and High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail (HSIPR) Program Notice of Funding Availability, Issuance of Interim Program Guidance. (June 2009). Both documents are available on FRA’s website: www.FRA.DOT.GOV.

America faces a new set of transportation challenges - creating a foundation for economic growth in a more complex global economy, promoting energy independence and efficiency, addressing global climate change and environmental quality, and fostering livable communities connected by safe and efficient modes of travel. The existing transportation system requires significant investment simply to rebuild and maintain critical infrastructure and modernize aging technologies. Meeting our 21st century challenges will require new transportation solutions as well.

The Obama Administration believes that our transportation investment strategy must address several strategic goals in the coming years:

  • Ensure safe and efficient transportation choices. Promote the safest possible movement of goods and people, and optimize the use of existing and new transportation infrastructure.
  • Build a foundation for economic competiveness. Lay the groundwork for near-term and ongoing economic growth by facilitating efficient movement of people and goods, while renewing critical domestic manufacturing and supply industries.
  • Promote energy efficiency and environmental quality. Reinforce efforts to foster energy independence and renewable energy, and reduce pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Support interconnected livable communities. Improve quality of life in local communities by promoting affordable, convenient, and sustainable housing, energy, and transportation options.

A New Transportation Vision. President Obama proposes to help address the Nation’s transportation challenges by investing in an efficient, high-speed passenger rail network of 100-600 mile intercity corridors that connect communities across America. High-speed intercity passenger rail (HSIPR) is well positioned to address many of the nation’s strategic transportation goals:

Safe and efficient transportation options. Rail is a cost-effective means for serving transportation needs in congested intercity corridors. In many cases, modest investment on existing rights-of-way can result in HSIPR service with highly competitive trip times, while also providing ancillary benefits to energy-efficient freight rail service. HSIPR also has a strong track record of safety in the United States and overseas. In Japan, for instance, the Tokaido Shinkansen trains have operated without a derailment or collision since the inception of operations in 1964.

Foundation for economic competitiveness. America’s transportation system is the lifeblood of the economy. Providing a robust rail network can help serve the needs of national and regional commerce in a cost-effective, resource-efficient manner, by offering travelers and freight convenient access to economic centers. Moreover, investments in HSIPR will not only generate high-skilled construction and operation jobs, but it can potentially also provide a steady market for revitalized domestic industries producing such essential components as rail, control systems, locomotives, and passenger cars.

Energy efficiency and environment quality. Rail is already among the cleanest and most energy-efficient of the passenger transportation modes. A future HSIPR network using new clean diesel and electric power can further enhance rail’s advantages.

Interconnected livable communities. Rail transport has generally been associated with “smart growth” because it can foster higher-density development than has typically been associated with highways and airports. Rail is uniquely capable of providing both high-speed intercity transportation and its own efficient local access and egress system. For example, in the Boston Region, Amtrak’s Acela serves two downtown stations connected to public transit – South Station and Back Bay – as well as a suburban station near Route 128. Yet just a few miles down the line to the west, Acela achieves speeds up to 150 miles per hour.

Developing a comprehensive high-speed intercity passenger rail network will require a long-term commitment at both the Federal and State levels. The President proposes to jump-start the process with the $8 billion down payment provided in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act) and a high-speed rail grant program of $1 billion per year (proposed in his fiscal year (FY) 2010 budget).

A major reshaping of the Nation’s transportation system is not without significant challenges. After decades of relatively modes investment in passenger rail, the United States has a dwindling pool of expertise in the field and a lack of manufacturing capacity. Federal and State Governments face a difficult fiscal environment in which to balance critical investments priorities, and many will have to ramp up their program management infrastructure. The country’s success in creating a sustainable transportation future, however, demands that we work to overcome these challenges through strong new partnerships among State and local governments, railroads, manufacturers, and other stakeholders, along with the renewed Federal commitment proposed here.

The near-term investment strategy seeks to:

  • Advance new express high-speed corridor services (operating speeds above 150 mph on primarily dedicated track) in select corridors of 200-600 miles.
  • Develop emerging and regional high-speed corridor services (operating speeds up to 90–110 mph and 110-150 mph respectively on shared and dedicated track) in corridors of 100-500 miles.
  • Upgrade reliability and service on conventional intercity rail services (operating speeds up to 79-90 mph).

This near-term strategy emphasizes making investments that yield tangible results within the next several years, while also creating a “pipeline” that enables ongoing corridor development.

Proposed Funding Approach. In order to meet the goals of the Recovery Act while initiating a transformational new program, we propose to advance four funding “tracks”:  

  • Projects. Provide grants to complete individual projects that are “ready to go” with preliminary engineering and environmental work completed.
  • Corridor programs. Enter into cooperative agreements to develop entire phases or geographic sections of corridor programs that have completed corridor plans and service level environmental documentation, and have a prioritized list of projects to meet the corridor objectives; this approach would involve additional Federal oversight and support.
  • Planning. Enter into cooperative agreements for planning activities using FY 2009 appropriations funds, in order to create the corridor program and project pipeline need to fully develop a high-speed rail network.
  • FY 2009 Appropriations Funded Projects. As an alternative for projects that would otherwise fit under Track 1, but for State applicants offering at least a 50 percent non-Federal share of total project financing, enter into grants with more simplified terms, including more time to complete the project, than required under Track 1.

As President Obama outlined in his March 20, 2009, memorandum, Ensuring Responsible Spending of Recovery Act Funds, program evaluation will be based on “transparent, merit-based selection criteria.” Criteria will include:

  • Public Benefits. The extent to which the project or corridor program provides specific, measurable, achievable benefits in a timely and cost-effective manner, including: (1) contributing to economic recovery efforts, (2) advancing strategic transportation goals (outlined above), and (3) furthering other passenger rail goals articulated in the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA).
  • Risk Mitigation. The extent to which the project or corridor program addresses critical success factors, including: (1) fiscal and institutional capacity to carry out projects, (2) realistic financial plans for covering capital and operating costs, (3) formal commitments from key stakeholders (e.g., railroads and participating States), and (4) adequate project management oversight experience and procedures.

As provided for in the Recovery Act and PRIIA, the universe of potential applicants is limited to States, groups of States, and under some circumstances, Amtrak. The focus on State-based passenger rail investment decisions is new for FRA. It is abundantly clear that success, which I take to mean a sustainable program delivering true transportation benefits in a cost-effective, environmentally positive and energy efficient manner, can only be achieved through the development of new partnerships between FRA and the tates and regions.

Finally, the President’s high-speed rail initiative will transform FRA as an agency in many ways. In the more than 25 years that I have known of FRA, it has been a safety agency that also gave Amtrak its annual grant. In my mind, safety will always be FRA’s top priority. But we now have a new, and very important financial assistance mission with a new set of partners and stakeholders. While high-speed rail is an important part of this new mission, so too are our expanded relationship with Amtrak, the new grant programs authorized over the last couple of years and our credit assistance program.

FRA’s financial assistance staff today is sized for that earlier, quieter era. Even though PRIIA added a number of responsibilities in the areas of passenger rail and financial assistance to FRA’s mission, that Act did not authorize an expansion of FRA’s financial assistance staff. That they have produced high quality products in response to the aggressive schedule in the Recovery Act is a testament to the knowledge, skill and dedication of that small staff. Having said that, we cannot successfully manage the high-speed rail program envisioned by the President and implement the provisions of PRIIA and undertake our other new and expanded financial assistance functions contained in other recent Acts with the present levels of staff and other resources. The President’s FY 2010 budget begins to address FRA’s financial assistance staff and resource needs. I urge members of this Committee to support this request. I will also note that successful implementation of the Recovery Act, including oversight of the expenditure of $8 billion, will require that the amount of these funds available for use by the Secretary in project oversight be consistent with the 1% authorized in 49 U.S.C. 24403(b)(1) and not the one quarter of one percent authorized in the Recovery Act.

In closing, let me restate the obvious, these are exciting times at FRA and the Department of Transportation. Long-serving staff at FRA have told me that they have never before seen the level of Administration support for rail programs that they see today from President Obama, Vice President Biden and Secretary LaHood. But if our efforts are to be successful, we will need Congressional support too. I look forward to working with the members of the Congress in general and this Committee in particular to help this nation reap the numerous benefits offered by high-speed rail.

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The Implementation of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008

Statement of

The Honorable Joseph C. Szabo
Federal Railroad Administrator
U.S. Department of Transportation

before the

Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
U.S. House of Representatives

March 11, 2011

Chairman Shuster, Ranking Member Brown, and members of the Subcommittee:  I am honored to appear before you today to discuss the implementation of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008, also known as PRIIA.

Introduction

In response to the tragic Metrolink accident at Chatsworth, California in 2008, Congress enacted the most sweeping single piece of legislation aimed at FRA and the programs we manage since the agency was created in the Department of Transportation Act of 1967.   For the first time, in one piece of legislation, both parts of FRA’s mission, safety and infrastructure investment, were addressed in a comprehensive manner.  Division A of that legislation, the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (RSIA), was the first reauthorization of FRA’s safety program in 14 years.  It identified significant new direction, responsibilities and resources for FRA’s safety program.  Division B of that legislation, the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA), began the transformation of FRA’s investment programs.  PRIIA was the first reauthorization of Amtrak in 11 years, but it did this in the larger framework of intercity passenger rail service that went beyond the traditional view that Amtrak is synonymous with that mode of transportation.

As a result of this legislation, FRA, a comparatively small agency, was tasked with the challenge of taking on significantly expanded missions, which helps to explain why the Subcommittee has chosen to review this legislation in two hearings.  While much remains to be done, FRA has made significant progress in meeting the goals of PRIIA.  

Implementing PRIIA – the Progress To-Date

PRIIA began the transformation of the Federal role in intercity passenger railroad investment – which we believe should be on a par with the other surface transportation modes.  In this regard, PRIIA can be viewed as addressing three issues critical to the future of intercity passenger rail service.

PRIIA addressed the mission of Amtrak:  defining the national railroad passenger transportation system, improving and adding transparency to Amtrak’s business processes, and setting expectations for intercity passenger rail performance and the roles and responsibilities of Amtrak and the freight railroads that host Amtrak service to deliver on those expectations.  PRIIA addressed a new view of the investment relationships needed to deliver intercity passenger rail service.  Since 1971, this had been a bilateral relationship between the U.S. Department of Transportation and Amtrak.  PRIIA envisioned a trilateral relationship that involves relations among DOT, Amtrak, and the States.  Finally, PRIIA addressed high-speed intercity passenger rail service from both the public and private investment perspectives.  

The roles and responsibilities for implementing PRIIA are as diverse as the issues that the law addresses.  Amtrak, FRA, the Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General, the Surface Transportation Board, the States and others each found that PRIIA had significant mission shifts and expansion for them. 

Implementing PRIIA – the Challenges

PRIIA envisioned roles, responsibilities and relationships that previously had not existed or were being significantly modified.  In many ways, PRIIA began the establishment of a new paradigm for intercity passenger rail transportation, which the Obama Administration has expanded on. 

None of the stakeholders, and I include FRA in that group, initially had the resources and capabilities for fully participating in the new intercity passenger rail environment created by PRIIA.  FRA was sized for a financial assistance program that routinely provided annual operating and capital grants to Amtrak and evaluated applications for financial assistance under the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) Program, together with a handful of other grants.

Compounding the challenge of the vastly expanded mission of FRA’s financial assistance team, are the significant new responsibilities placed upon our safety program which will be the subject of a discussion with this Subcommittee next week.  In balancing resources and priorities, we initially focused on the safety initiatives required by RSIA.  Safety is and will continue to be our top priority.  However, I want to assure this subcommittee that we are now quickly turning our attention to the outstanding rulemakings required by PRIIA. 

When PRIIA was enacted, Amtrak was in a defensive posture.  It had just survived yet another decade of limited funding, deteriorating assets, declining on-time-performance on its host railroads, threats to its very existence and was in the midst of a transition in management.  While capable in many areas, Amtrak was focused on tactical day-to-day actions of preserving a national system of intercity passenger rail service in a resource constrained environment.  Its ability to envision a new model for intercity passenger rail service, with new relationships and stakeholders, was constrained by decades where planning and tactical survival had precedence over planning a strategic vision.

Most States had no passenger rail investment programs, and those that did were primarily focused on continuation of existing State-supported Amtrak service.  Most States also had no or very limited long-term vision of a more robust role for rail in meeting their intercity passenger mobility needs, and limited rail expertise.  Thus, most States did not have the pipeline of intercity passenger rail projects that had been subjected to the rigorous planning, environmental review, design and engineering that would make them  “ready to go” as PRIIA-authorized funding became available.  Similarly, most States did not have the relationships with their private sector freight railroads that would be a critical stakeholder in implementing these projects.

Freight railroads were not prepared for public investments in their assets, for the obligations placed upon FRA and the States that required a tangible public sector benefit for the Federal investment, or for the rapid expansion in the interest in passenger rail investment by multiple States.

The good news is because of PRIIA and the Obama Administration’s efforts on rail, all of the parties have been rapidly expanding their capabilities.  The public sector and the private sector railroads have come to understandings on the roles, responsibilities and obligations that flow from public investment in private assets.  Indeed, I am happy to report that States and railroads have reached agreement on the development of most of the major intercity passenger rail corridors where high-speed passenger service will use freight railroad infrastructure.   

Under the leadership of Joe Boardman and a new Board of Directors on which I serve as Secretary LaHood’s representative, Amtrak is now thinking strategically while not forgetting those essential tactical elements that are important for rail service today.   Amtrak can point to 16 consecutive months of record ridership while also producing a visionary plan for high-speed rail on the Northeast Corridor and innovative partnerships with states to participate in the development of high-speed rail elsewhere.

The progress seen in intercity passenger rail over the last two years is due, in no small part, to PRIIA and President Obama’s commitment to rail.  The President’s commitment has given a renewed sense of purpose to intercity passenger rail stakeholders.  It also has us thinking about the next steps in the evolution of intercity passenger rail in the United States.

Next Steps

In his State of the Union address, President Obama laid out a bold vision for intercity passenger rail transportation.  To realize this vision, we will need to continue to build upon PRIIA.  I hope to soon be discussing the role of rail in the greater surface transportation context, but as Secretary LaHood advocates for so passionately, today I would like to highlight the Fiscal Year 2012 budget request and how it proposes a better passenger rail system for the nation. 

Section 201 of PRIIA defined the National Railroad Passenger Transportation System.  In doing so, PRIIA separately recognized Amtrak’s service on the Northeast Corridor, long distance routes of more than 750 miles in length and short distance corridors (routes of not more than 750 miles in length).  However, section 101 of PRIIA lumps all of these together in a single authorization.  The President’s budget request views each of these different services as important to the nation’s mobility, but each needs to be viewed as business units or lines treated differently by Federal funding.   Thus, the President’s proposal would focus the operating surplus of the Northeast Corridor on financing needed capital improvements in the Northeast Corridor.  Long distance trains and certain operating and capital costs needed to maintain national connectivity, including the national reservations system, security, training, and other national backbone systems, would be funded as part of a new National Network Service program.

Section 209 of PRIIA requires the establishment of a single, nationwide standardized methodology for allocating the operating and capital costs among the States and Amtrak for trains operated on corridors of less than 750 miles in length or designated as high-speed corridors by the Secretary.  We support this provision but in many cases it places additional burdens on the States that could jeopardize valuable and relied upon current passenger rail service.  The President’s budget recognizes this and provides temporary support to States for operating and capital subsidies of these shorter corridor services.  As state rail service evolves with greater state control of their passenger service, the federal grants will shift to high-speed corridor services during their ridership “ramp-up” phase.

Section 205 and Section 211 of PRIIA address the legacy of limited investment in intercity passenger rail that has left Amtrak’s infrastructure and equipment in a deteriorated state and the corporation burdened by debt obligations it took on over a decade ago.  The public values safe, clean, reliable transportation systems, including passenger rail services.  To do this while attracting new riders requires a commitment and priority to fund fleet replacement, equipment, and infrastructure.  The President’s Budget does this in a new System Preservation Account.  Once so improved, the funds must be available to assure that they stay that way.

Section 305 of PRIIA began an effort leading to the development of a standardized pool of intercity passenger rail equipment that provides the cost-effective capacity to move people by rail.  We need to take the next step.  The President’s budget proposes to do this by providing initial capital necessary to procure, maintain and make available to the States and Amtrak, standardized, interoperable 100% U.S. manufactured state-of-the-art rail cars and locomotives.  The freight industry does this already and we believe the passenger side should also. 

Section 501 of PRIIA defines high-speed rail as “intercity passenger rail service that is reasonably expected to reach speeds of at least 110 miles per hour”.  That definition of high-speed rail needs to be revised as we begin the development of a system that provides 80 percent of Americans access to a high-quality intercity passenger rail network featuring high-speed service within 25 years.  The President’s budget uses three different descriptions of high-speed rail – Core Express that would connect large densely populated metropolitan areas less than 500 miles apart with trip times of three hours or less at speeds of 125 mph-250mph; Regional high-speed service that will connect medium sized metropolitan areas with frequent and fast service at speeds of 90 mph-125 mph, and Emerging/Feeder high-speed service connecting smaller communities with improved conventional rail service up to 90 mph.  This three-tiered approach best balances fast service with the time, distance, speed, and geographic dynamics of our country. 

High-speed service around the world, including in our Northeast Corridor, is successful because it has frequent and optimally located connections at intermodal stations where people live and do business.  As we move from the programs authorized by PRIIA to those that can meet our expanded vision, we need to assure that this essential element of successful transportation is addressed.  That’s why the President’s Budget leaves no one stranded by fully funding ADA accessibility at all rail stations. 

Finally, the President’s budget proposes that funding made available for intercity passenger rail should be done so with the same degree of predictability and multi-year commitment that helps define our successful highway and transit programs.

Competition and the Role of the Private Sector

Section 502 of PRIIA, which was designed to solicit private sector initiatives in the development of high-speed rail, did not result in many proposals, in part because the roles of the Federal Government, States and the private sector in developing high-speed rail are still being worked out.  Realization of the President’s vision for high-speed rail in America will require significant capital investment but also a long-term commitment from government and private enterprise.     

The California High-Speed Rail Program anticipates that a third of project costs will come from non-Federal, non-State sources.  Florida, before ultimately rejecting high speed rail funding, was preparing to seek expressions of interest from private sector consortiums on a design, build, operate, maintain and finance (DBOMF) arrangement that would have the private sector bear the construction and operating risks of developing high-speed service in the State.  Those prospects looked good for the passenger rail industry.  More work needs to be done to identify and develop the programmatic structures that will effectively attract private sector interest.   Secretary LaHood and I look forward to working with the Congress to better define these structures.

 One of the specific issues that you asked to be addressed at this hearing is the potential for competition in providing intercity passenger rail service.  I know this Subcommittee has a particular interest in Section 214 of PRIIA.  Section 214 would allow for a pilot program involving competition on up to two Amtrak routes.  Mr. Chairman, I want to assure you that we will move expeditiously on this rule making.  Assuming we have adequate resources in the current fiscal year, we plan to have a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking Making underway later this year.

As you know, states currently have the ability to choose their own operators for rail service.  Additional competition may have the potential to improve efficiency and drive down costs.  Key considerations include a commitment and dedication to safety, tangible benefits to passengers in terms of fast efficient service, effective accountability for any liability associated with operations, and a level playing field whereby all providers of intercity passenger rail service are railroads covered by the full panoply of railroad laws, as reflected in section 301 (49 U.S.C. 24405 (b), (c) and (d)) and section 214 (49 U.S.C. 24711(c)(3)) of PRIIA.   

We at the FRA want to work with you to ensure that the private sector is an active partner in the success of high speed and intercity passenger rail.   

Conclusion

In closing Mr. Chairman, I have spent my entire adult life in the rail industry.  I have known of and observed FRA for more than 30 years.  At no time has there been such a period of transformation in the Agency’s mission and its ability to impact the safety and mobility of the American public and the freight on which the world’s greatest economy depends.  Secretary LaHood and I look forward to working with the Congress to ensure that America can fully realize the benefits of rail transportation.

I would be happy to address any questions the Committee might have.

#

 

FRA’s Role in Carrying Out the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (RSIA)

Written Statement of

Jo Strang
Associate Administrator for Railroad Safety/Chief Safety Officer,Wr
Federal Railroad Administration,
U.S. Department of Transportation

Before the

Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials,
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure,
U.S. House of Representatives

March 17, 2011

 

Chairmen Mica and Shuster, Vice Chairman Reed, Ranking Members Rahall and Brown, and other Members of the Committee and Subcommittee, I am very pleased to be here today, on behalf of Secretary of Transportation LaHood and Administrator Szabo of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), to discuss FRA’s role in carrying out the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (RSIA), especially the provisions in that Act regarding positive train control (PTC) and hours of service.  My prepared testimony for this hearing is intended to supplement and update the written information on FRA’s work to effectuate RSIA that the agency has supplied to Congress previously. 

As background for the discussion of FRA’s implementation of RSIA, I would like to report that the railroad industry’s safety record is very positive for calendar year 2010, the last complete year for which preliminary data are available.   The industry achieved all-time lows in two important indices of railroad safety:   in the accident/incident rate per million train-miles and in the train accident rate per million train-miles.  FRA is encouraged by the results, but will continue to work with industry to lower the rate and severity of railroad accidents.

Through delegations from the Secretary of Transportation (Secretary), the Federal railroad safety laws provide FRA with very broad authority over every aspect of railroad safety.  In exercising that authority, the agency has issued and enforces a wide range of rail safety regulations and orders.  FRA currently has active rulemaking projects on a number of important safety topics; some of those rulemakings pursuant to RSIA will be described later in this testimony.  FRA also enforces the Federal railroad safety statutes as well as the Hazardous Materials Regulations, promulgated by the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, as they pertain to rail transportation.  Please see FRA’s Web site (http://www.fra.dot.gov) for additional background. 

I. Overview of RSIA Rulemakings and Other RSIA Projects in General

RSIA mandates that the Secretary produce more than 40 final rules, guidance documents, model State laws, studies, and reports, including 3 types of annual reports and hundreds of periodic audits of railroads’ reports of crossing accidents.  The Secretary has delegated this responsibility to FRA.  Roughly 36 of the mandated projects are to produce single deliverables, as opposed to periodic deliverables.  So far, FRA has essentially completed[1] 12 of the roughly 36 projects involving single deliverables and 4 of the 5 annual reports required so far by the 3 annual-reporting mandates.  The agency has also completed the first set of the RSIA-mandated periodic audits of railroads’ compliance with their duty to report grade crossing collisions and fatalities, with respect to the eight Class I railroads, and has set up a system to handle the first set of RSIA-mandated periodic audits of hundreds of other railroads. 

Besides final amendments to the hours of service recordkeeping regulations, interim guidance on the hours of service statutory amendments, and final rules on PTC, all of which will be discussed later, FRA has issued the following:  (1) bridge safety standards;  (2) regulations requiring the ten States that have had the most highway-rail grade crossing accidents during calendar years 2006-2008 to file State-specific action plans to improve grade crossing safety for FRA approval; and (3) most recently, a model State law on sight obstructions at passively signed highway-rail grade crossings. Moreover, FRA has made a great deal of progress on a number of other RSIA-mandated projects.  For example, just last month, FRA submitted a draft of the other RSIA-mandated model law, which concerns motorists’ violation of warning signals grade crossings, to various organizations with a request for their comments.  FRA has also published an advance notice of proposed rulemaking on the safety risk reduction program and five notices of proposed rulemaking (NPRM)--on concrete crossties, emergency escape breathing apparatus, conductor certification, camp cars used as sleeping quarters, and systems for telephonic notification of unsafe conditions at grade crossings.  Further, in 2008 and 2009, FRA completed two final rules that were necessitated by RSIA even though not explicitly mandated by it.  The first of these final rules revised the provisions on civil penalties in all of the safety rules to reflect the higher ordinary maximum and aggravated maximum penalty per violation.  The other final rule amended FRA’s rules of practice to provide for temporary waiver of safety rules on an emergency basis and revised FRA’s enforcement procedures to provide for disqualification of railroad employees from safety-sensitive service based on violations of the hazardous materials laws. 

In terms of RSIA-mandated single (as opposed to periodic) reports or studies, FRA has completed five and partially completed a sixth.  First, FRA has submitted a long-term strategy for improving rail safety, with annual plans for the five fiscal years involved.  Second, FRA has provided a report to Congress on whether diesel-electric locomotives operated by tourist, excursion, or museum railroads should be subject to less frequent inspections; the report did not support relaxing the requirement.  Third, FRA has posted on its Web site its evaluation of current laws on trespass, vandalism, and violation of crossing warning devices.  Fourth, after consultation with several other Federal agencies, FRA completed a report to Congress on the exposure of railroad employees to radiation, which it submitted by letter dated January 27, 2011.  Fifth, the Secretary submitted a report to Congress on station platform gaps by letter dated January 10, 2011.  Finally, FRA has also submitted a report to Congress on the use of personal electronic devices by locomotive engineers, conductors, trainmen, and other railroad operating employees; this initial report will be supplemented by a report dealing with other types of safety-related employees, such as maintenance-of-way employees.  

On February 23 of this year, FRA entered into a contract with a law firm to carry out the mandated study on whether barring discovery of certain documents related to safety risk reduction programs would be in the public interest; the contract provides that the study is to be completed within six months.  FRA has also made progress on a number of other RSIA-mandated reports, including those on (1) the effect of repeal of “the Conrail exemption,” (2) recommendations for assistance to families of those affected by passenger rail accidents, (3) the adequacy of transportation of domestically produced renewable fuels, and (4) track-inspection intervals. 

In terms of RSIA-mandated, periodic reports, FRA has provided two RSIA-mandated annual reports to Congress that list all unmet rail safety statutory mandates and open rail safety recommendations from the DOT Inspector General and the National Transportation Safety Board and summarize FRA’s responsive action.  The latest report that has been submitted to Congress is current through December 30, 2009.  A draft of the third such annual report is in clearance in the Executive Branch.  Finally, FRA has posted on its Web site its first two annual enforcement reports under RSIA (an expanded version of FRA’s traditional report on civil penalty cases closed), which provide specific analyses of civil penalty assessments and settlements as well as information on other types of enforcement actions, the activities of the Locomotive Engineer Review Board, and the results of FRA safety inspections. 

II. Four RSIA-Based Projects Involving Hours of Service

On May 27, 2009, less than eight months after enactment of RSIA, FRA published a final rule amending FRA’s existing regulations requiring records and reports on hours of service, primarily to reflect the RSIA amendments to the hours of service laws and also to permit electronic recordkeeping.  The mandatory rulemaking was conducted with the assistance of the Railroad Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC).  The RSAC includes representatives from all of FRA’s major stakeholder groups, including railroads, labor organizations, suppliers and manufacturers, other government agencies, and other interested parties.    

Less than a month after producing that final rule, on June 26, 2009, FRA published lengthy and detailed interim and proposed interpretations of the major hours of service statutory provisions amended by RSIA.  The RSAC aided FRA’s development of this document to a certain extent, as well.  During the comment period, FRA received 56 comments on the proposed interpretation and interim interpretations, the majority of which addressed either the proposed “continuous lookback” interpretation or the interpretation of the requirement of time off after a series of consecutive days of covered service.  Most opposed the new proposed interpretation.  FRA is in the process of drafting the Final Statement of Agency Policy and Interpretation, which will respond to comments and may revise some of the interim interpretations.

On January 3, 2011, FRA published a proposed rule on safety and health requirements for camp cars used as sleeping quarters for covered-service employees or maintenance-of-way employees.In response to the rulemaking mandate, FRA has proposed to require a number of improvements to camp-car living arrangements.In addition, to implement a related RSIA amendment, the proposal would extend FRA’s existing regulations prohibiting railroads from beginning construction or reconstruction of employee sleeping quarters in the immediate vicinity of switching or humping operations to cover camp cars used as sleeping quarters for maintenance-of-way workers.

Finally, with the assistance of the RSAC, FRA has recently issued and sent to the Federal Register for publication an NPRM to establish hours of service requirements for train employees providing commuter or intercity rail passenger transportation.   When the proposed rule is published in the FederalRegister, FRA will welcome comments.   FRA is working hard to meet the statutory deadline of producing a final rule that is effective before October 16, 2011, to avoid the requirements of the RSIA currently in effect for other train employees going into effect for these employees. 

III. Carrying Out RSIA Provisions on PTC

I would like to end my testimony by discussing the agency’s work to implement the two major RSIA provisions on PTC.  RSIA defines a “positive train control system” as “a system designed to prevent train-to-train collisions, over-speed derailments, incursions into established work zone limits, and the movement of a train through a switch left in the wrong position.”  RSIA requires that by April 16, 2010, each Class I railroad and each entity that provides regularly scheduled intercity or commuter rail passenger transportation submit to FRA (as the Secretary’s delegate) a plan for implementation of such a PTC system on certain specified lines by the end of calendar 2015.  RSIA also requires that the railroad implement a PTC system in accordance with its plan.  Further, RSIA requires that FRA review and either approve or disapprove each plan within 90 days of receipt, conduct an annual review to ensure that railroads are complying with their respective plans, issue regulations or orders necessary to implement that section, and report to Congress by December 31, 2012, on railroads’ progress in implementing PTC systems.  Finally, RSIA allows FRA to require PTC systems on lines other than those specified in the statute, provide technical assistance to railroads in developing their plans, and assess civil penalties for a railroad’s failure to submit a PTC implementation plan or comply with its PTC implementation plan. 

In response to this PTC regulatory mandate in RSIA, FRA conducted a rulemaking with the assistance of its RSAC.  In January 2010, when FRA issued the PTC final rule, the agency simultaneously sought comment on certain narrow issues, in contemplation of making future amendments to the PTC final rule.  The Association of American Railroads (AAR), The Chlorine Institute, Inc., and various other parties filed petitions for reconsideration of the January 2010 final rule, all of which FRA denied by letter in July 2010.  Final rule amendments were published in September 2010.

As to the contents of FRA’s January 2010 PTC final rule as amended in September 2010 (the PTC Rule), it provides that, with some limited exceptions, PTC systems must be installed and operated (1) on lines over which intercity rail passenger transportation or commuter rail passenger transportation is regularly provided and (2) on freight-only rail lines if they are part of a Class I railroad’s system, carrying at least 5 million gross tons (mgt) of freight annually, and carrying any amount of poison- or toxic-by-inhalation (PIH/TIH) material (e.g., chlorine or anhydrous ammonia). 

In issuing the PTC Rule, FRA provided the following exceptions and exclusions that provide relief to the railroads while maintaining safety.  First, a de minimis PIH risk exclusion for low volume Class I tracks that have no passenger traffic.  Second, an exception for low speed operations occurring in passenger yards and terminals when the trains are either empty or no freight operations are permitted and reverse movements are restricted.  Third, an exception for limited passenger operations where track speeds are restricted, temporal separation is maintained, or the passenger trains are operated under a risk mitigation plan.  Fourth, a number of exclusions for Class II and III railroads.  A Class II or III railroad is not required to install PTC on its locomotives when operating on a Class I PTC-equipped track if:  (1) the track segment has no regularly scheduled intercity or commuter passenger rail traffic, or if it does have such traffic, the applicable PTC system permits the operation of a non-equipped train; (2) the operations are restricted to four trains a day; and (3) the train movement is less than 20 miles or if the movement is greater than 20 miles, the non-equipped operations may continue only until December 31, 2020.  A Class II or III railroad is not required to install PTC on its line if:  (1) the freight traffic is less than 15 mgt per year; and (2) if the line segment is un-signaled, no more than 4 regularly scheduled passenger trains operate per day; or if the line segment is signaled, no more than 12 regularly scheduled passenger trains operate per day.

A PTC system or component of such a system may not be permitted to be installed in revenue service unless FRA has certified that the system or component has been approved by FRA.  In order to receive such approval, subject railroads must each submit, and FRA must approve, the following three plans:  (1) a PTC Implementation Plan, which includes a full schedule for PTC system implementation on the railroad by December 31, 2015; (2) a PTC Development Plan, which describes in technical detail the PTC system to be implemented, if the PTC system has not yet been approved by FRA; and (3) a PTC Safety Plan, which shows that the PTC system described in the PTC Development Plan will work correctly in the subject territory. 

Both the PTC Implementation Plan and the PTC Development Plan were required to be submitted together by April 16, 2010.  Simultaneous submission was required to evaluate the feasibility of the proposed PTC Implementation Plan schedule with respect to the technology being selected according to the PTC Development Plan.  In recognition that such an early deadline may limit the railroads’ opportunities to research, bid, and otherwise “shop around” for PTC systems, thus reducing market competitiveness, the rule permitted railroads to submit with their PTC Implementation Plan a shorter version of a PTC Development Plan, called a Notice of Product Intent.  The Notices of Product Intent describe the functions and requirements of the intended system without identifying the particular manufacturer or product.  If a railroad submitted a Notice of Product Intent with its PTC Implementation Plan, the railroad would have an additional 270 days to submit its PTC Development Plan.   

Pursuant to the January 2010 final rule, 41 railroads filed PTC Implementation Plans describing how they proposed to deploy PTC systems on their properties by the December 31, 2015, statutory deadline.  FRA successfully approved or disapproved all of these PTC Implementation Plans before the 90-day deadline specified in the January 2010 PTC rule.  If FRA disapproved the plan, the agency identified the specific issues needing to be addressed.   Of these 41 submissions, FRA approved 24 plans without conditions, provisionally approved 1 plan with conditions, provisionally approved 14 plans submitted with Notices of Product Intent pending resubmission with a PTC Development Plan, and disapproved two plans without prejudice.  FRA staff is diligently working with these two railroads to create an acceptable plan.  As FRA has already informed the Congress, a 42nd railroad was recently identified that is required to submit a PTC Implementation Plan for a single small section of track, and FRA staff is working closely with a representative of that railroad. 

FRA has subsequently approved dozens of filings seeking approval to modify railroads’ PTC Implementation Plans so as not to install PTC systems on 100 passenger-traffic line segments.  FRA staff has also reviewed more than 100 freight-line-exclusion requests based on a de minimis PIH/TIH risk.  FRA action on some of these requests is pending resolution of the litigation.  FRA expects additional requests for exclusions.

FRA staff is also working with several railroads on final approval of their PTC Development Plans so that their proposed PTC systems may be approved.  FRA is providing both informal and formal technical assistance to railroads via conference calls, working meetings, e-mail exchanges, and other written correspondence.  FRA technical staff is also supporting both laboratory and field PTC system development and implementation testing.  Increased requests for support are expected as the December 31, 2015, implementation deadline approaches.

In addition to supporting PTC implementation by providing technical assistance, FRA has also supported PTC implementation by providing financial assistance.  FRA has two means of providing funding to help offset the significant costs of PTC:  the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing Program (commonly known as the “RRIF Program”) and the Railroad Safety Technology Grant Program mandated by RSIA.

Under the RRIF Program, FRA is authorized to provide direct loans and loan guarantees up to $35 billion.  Eligible borrowers include railroads, State and local governments, government-sponsored authorities and corporations, joint ventures that include at least one railroad, and limited-option shippers that intend to construct a new rail connection.  Up to $7 billion is reserved for projects benefitting freight railroads other than Class I carriers.  Direct loans may fund up to 100 percent of a railroad project, with repayment periods of up to 35 years. 

RSIA requires FRA as the Secretary’s delegate “to establish a grant program for the deployment of . . . new or novel railroad safety technology,” which FRA has designated the Railroad Safety Technology Grant Program.  The section authorizes appropriations of $50 million annually from FY 2009 through FY 2013 to implement this section.  FY 2010 was the first year that FRA received an appropriation to carry out this mandate.   In view of the high costs associated with PTC implementation, and the limited funding available in the program, FRA elected to dedicate the FY 2010 funds for collaborative projects that address the resolution of shared technical issues associated with PTC system implementation.  Thus far, FRA has provided nine grants for a total of about $49.9 million under the program.  The nine grants are identified in the following table:

Grantee

Project

State

Dollar Amount

Southern California Regional Rail Authority

Interoperable Digital Communications Infrastructure Construction

CA

 $6,605,446

Amtrak

Vital Electronic Train Management System (VETMS)-
Advanced Civil Speed Enforcement System (ACSES) Interoperability

DC

 $10,280,000

New York Metropolitan Transit Authority

ACSES Interface Specification Verification 

NY

 $6,596,000

Meteorcomm LLC

Interoperable Train Control (ITC)
Interoperable 220 Megahertz Radio 

WA

 $  21,050,000

Howard University

Interoperable Identity Management

DC

 $        857,106

Railroad Research Foundation

Risk Route Evaluation

DC

 $    1,541,448

WABTEC Corp.

Video PTC Database Verification 

IA

 $        500,000

The Kansas City Southern Ry. Co.

Analog to Digital Communications Infrastructure Conversion

MO

 $    1,867,450

Maryland Dept. of Transportation

Hi-speed VETMS Performance Verification

MD

 $        642,445

Finally, I would like to close my discussion of FRA’s implementation of the major PTC provisions of RSIA by focusing on the recent settlement agreement in the lawsuit filed by AAR challenging certain provisions of FRA’s PTC Rule.  As previously mentioned, under RSIA, all Class I railroads are required to install PTC systems by December 31, 2015, on their main lines carrying at least 5 million gross tons of annual traffic and any PIH/TIH hazardous materials.  Under the PTC Rule as currently crafted, each railroad’s PTC Implementation Plan must indicate that a PTC system will be implemented on each of its track segments that met these statutory criteria during the year that RSIA became law (2008).  However, the PTC Rule allows for relief from PTC implementation requirements on a track segment if two conditions are satisfied:  (1) if PIH/TIH traffic subsequently ceases on the particular track segment before the end of 2015 or if the annual gross tonnage on the track segment falls below 5 million before the end of 2015 and (2) the track segment passes both a residual risk analysis test (which would be defined in a future rulemaking) and an alternative route analysis test.  These tests have the potential of requiring PTC system implementation on Class I track segments that had PIH/TIH hazardous materials traffic in calendar year 2008, but that would not carry such traffic as of December 31, 2015.

In July 2010, the AAR petitioned the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (D.C. Circuit) for review of those provisions of the PTC Rule as well as other provisions regarding requirements associated with the visibility of onboard PTC system information to crewmembers.  Recently the AAR approached FRA and suggested that the parties discuss a possible settlement of the suit.  On March 2 of this year, FRA and the AAR signed a settlement agreement regarding the AAR’s lawsuit, and on

March 3, the D.C. Circuit granted the parties’ motion to hold the case in abeyance with the parties required to file status reports at 60-day intervals. Under the parties’ agreement, FRA will issue two new NPRMs addressing issues that the AAR has raised regarding the PTC Rule.  The reexamination of the PTC Rule is consistent with the President’s recently issued Executive Order 13563 requiring agencies to review their significant rules and ensure that the safety benefits of the rules justify the costs imposed by the rules.    

The first NPRM will address issues related to the requirements to install PTC on Class I railroad mainline track segments that do not carry PIH traffic and are not used for intercity or commuter rail passenger transportation as of December 31, 2015.  The second NPRM will address the issues of how to handle enroute failures of PTC-equipped trains, circumstances under which a signal system may be removed after PTC installation, and whether yard movements and certain other train movements should qualify for a de minimis exception to the PTC Rule.  Upon the completion of the rulemaking proceeding related to the first NPRM, the parties will determine whether to file a joint motion to dismiss the lawsuit in its entirety.   In the second NPRM, FRA expects to address a number of PTC issues unrelated to the litigation that have been raised by the AAR and others since the issuance of the PTC Rule. 

It is our understanding that the AAR will be filing a petition with FRA requesting amendments to the PTC Rule and providing FRA with the safety rationale that the AAR believes supports the requested changes.  Other parties may also seek amendments to the rule. 

In developing an NPRM in response to any rulemaking petition that FRA receives with respect to the PTC Rule, this agency will consult with the PTC working group of the RSAC, which helped FRA develop the PTC Rule.  As previously mentioned, RSAC includes representatives of all of FRA’s major stakeholder groups, which include freight and passenger railroads, labor organizations, etc. 

Both NPRMs will invite public comments on the proposed changes to the PTC Rule.  FRA will consider all comments submitted during the rulemaking comment period in determining (1) whether to issue amendments to the PTC Rule, and (2) if so, the contents of those amendments; as a result, any amendments to the PTC Rule may differ from the proposals contained in the NPRMs. 

IV. Conclusion 

I appreciate this opportunity to speak with you today about FRA’s efforts to implement RSIA and look forward to working with the Committee and Subcommittee to learn your ideas on how FRA can do an even better job implementing this important legislation.  I would be happy to answer any of your questions.

 

[1] That is, the projects are completed apart from litigation in the case of the January 15, 2010, final rule and September 27, 2010, final rule amendments on PTC.

Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) Rail Safety Program Accomplishments

WRITTEN STATEMENT OF

THE HONORABLE JOSEPH C. SZABO,
ADMINISTRATOR,
FEDERAL RAILROAD ADMINISTRATION,

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION

BEFORE THE

COMMITTEE ON COMMERCE, SCIENCE, AND TRANSPORTATION,
U.S. SENATE

June 19, 2013

 

Chairman, Ranking Member, and Members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today, on behalf of Secretary LaHood, to discuss the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) rail safety program.  Rail is a particularly safe mode of transportation, and one that Americans are choosing more than ever before.  In this testimony, I will detail recent accomplishments, including the status of FRA’s implementation of the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (RSIA), and I will discuss current challenges.  We would like to note that some railroad accidents widely reported in the press during the last few months do not reflect the positive trends in safety statistics and annual records that we have seen in safety data. In closing, I will describe FRA’s preliminary reauthorization proposals, which we view as key components for improving our safety program.

FRA’s mission is to enable the safe, reliable, and efficient movement of people and goods for a strong America, now and in the future.  This testimony will explain how we are fulfilling that mission.

Recent Accomplishments

FRA’s top priority is safety, and 2012 was the safest year on record, continuing our year-over-year reductions in incidents.  Since 2003:

  • Total train accidents have declined by 43 percent.
  • Total derailments have declined by 41 percent.
  • Total highway-rail grade crossing accidents have declined by 34 percent.

These safety improvements have contributed to 18-percent fewer fatalities and 14-percent fewer injuries over ten years, the annual totals falling from 865 fatalities to 706 fatalities, and 9,264 injuries to 7,993 injuries.

This achievement is even more noteworthy because Amtrak ridership reached an all-time high, rail was the fastest-growing mode of public transit, and intermodal freight traffic surged toward a new record.

FRA is committed to continuously improving safety.  Although safety performance has steadily improved, we are committed to working towards that goal.  Accidents in Missouri, Connecticut, and Maryland demonstrate the varied risks to rail safety.  FRA approaches rail safety comprehensively.  We are building on research and development, continuing to establish minimum safety requirements, conducting outreach and collaborating with stakeholders, performing compliance inspections and audits, and implementing and administering enforcement policies.

FRA’s multidimensional safety strategy is intended to foster a safety culture evolution toward hazard analysis, accident prevention, and innovation, leading to a continual process of safety improvement.  Positive train control (PTC) systems will be the technology backbone that promotes safety improvement through the reduction of certain human-factor-related incidents and should complement FRA’s other safety efforts, such as implementation of safety Risk Reduction Programs (RRP) as well as crash energy management.

RSIA Implementation and Other FRA Safety Actions

Congress acted to address rail safety issues in 2008 through the passage of RSIA, which reauthorized FRA’s safety program for five years and mandated that FRA develop approximately 40 final rules, guidance documents, model State laws, studies, and reports as well as three annual reports and hundreds of periodic accident reporting audits.  RSIA also requires certain railroads to implement PTC systems by the end of 2015; provides FRA, as the Secretary’s designee, with regulatory authority over the hours of service of passenger train crews; and extensively amends the hours of service laws.

FRA has finalized 59 percent of RSIA-mandated rules and 69 percent of the required studies, while continuing to pursue completion of the remaining provisions of the Act.  The appendix to this testimony lists the rulemakings, non-periodic reports, guidance, and model State laws that FRA has completed as of June 1, 2013, that were mandated, explicitly or implicitly, by RSIA.

FRA’s regulatory program maximizes safety by developing rules based on facts, incident and accident causation analysis, comparison of alternative mitigation measures, and cost-beneficial solutions.   FRA rules consider current and future industry capabilities, compliance burden and cost, and other economic and social realities.  Within this context, FRA makes every effort to reach statutory milestones with its available resources.  FRA often works with its Railroad Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC) to improve the quality and transparency of FRA’s rule development.  FRA has maintained a continuous planning effort, through the Department’s regulatory review process and consultations with stakeholders, since RSIA’s enactment.

To promote compliance with rules, FRA has built a safety oversight workforce that is highly motivated, well trained, and expertly skilled in numerous technical disciplines and specialties.  Many inspectors and specialists come to FRA with decades of operational experience, which we build on and refine through continuous, comprehensive guidance, classroom and on-the-job training, mentoring, and developmental opportunities.  New inspectors receive up to 120 hours of formal classroom training within their first year on board.  They also go through 56 hours of additional formal classroom training related to accident investigation fundamentals.  Historical accident and inspection data ensures optimal allocation of resources.  FRA uses its Staffing Allocation Model for allocating its inspection resources among its eight regions and core disciplines and its National Inspection Plan (NIP) to facilitate inspectors’ focusing their efforts on specific railroads and locations that are likely to have safety problems.  NIP provides guidance to an inspector on the amount of time that he or she should spend on each railroad in his or her territory based on historical risk analysis.  An inspector following NIP guidance should be more effective finding unsafe conditions that he or she can bring to the attention of railroad officials to correct.

The NIP also provides guidance to each regional office on how its inspectors, who each specialize in one of the five inspection disciplines, should divide their work by railroad and by State.  The NIP produces an initial baseline plan for each of the Agency’s eight regions based on an analysis of historical accident and inspection data and then allows the regional administrators to adjust the goals for their respective regions based on local knowledge and emerging issues.  FRA also partners with participating State rail safety programs in enforcing the rail safety laws.

As noted, FRA has made significant progress fulfilling unprecedented mandates set forth by RSIA, including the following measures to address some of the prevalent safety issues: 

  • To address track-caused accidents--
    • FRA issued regulations on concrete ties, completed a study of track inspection practices, and issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) on rail integrity. 
    • FRA has started a research and development program with the goal of achieving reliable long life from concrete ties.  The program involves freight railroads, Amtrak, manufacturers and universities. 
    • In addition, on its own initiative, using its general rulemaking authority, FRA published a final rule on vehicle/track interaction safety standards.  The final rule achieved unanimous approval by RSAC.  The rule was based on research into vehicle/track interaction.  The rule promotes the safe interaction of rail vehicles with the track over which they operate under a variety of conditions at speeds up to 220 mph.  The rule also adds flexibility for safely permitting high cant deficiency train operations through curves at more conventional speeds so that both freight and passenger trains may better sustain maximum allowable speeds through curved track. 
       
  • To enhance and improve grade crossing safety--
    • FRA issued standards requiring railroads to establish and maintain toll-free “1-800” emergency notification systems by which the public can telephone the proper railroad about a stalled vehicle or other safety problem at a specifically identified grade crossing. 
    • FRA promulgated regulations requiring 10 States to issue State-specific action plans to improve safety at highway-rail grade crossings.  FRA issued model State laws on highway users’ sight distance at passively signed crossings and on highway motorists’ violations of grade crossing warning devices.  
    • FRA published a proposed rule specifying the types of information that railroads would have to report to the Department’s National Crossing Inventory.  FRA also issued guidance addressing pedestrian safety at or near passenger rail stations, developed a five-year strategy to improve highway-rail grade crossing safety, and conducts an audit every two years of Class I railroads’ highway-rail grade crossing accident reports to ensure that these railroads are accurately reporting these incidents and such audits every five years of other railroads.  
    • FRA continues to research new technologies for improving grade crossing safety.  One project that has significant potential is implementation of Intelligent Transportation Systems at grade crossings.  FRA is also conducting human-factors research to understand the behavior of highway users when they approach grade crossings.  This is expected to lead to recommendations for improved signage and warning systems.  FRA also released a grade crossing information smartphone application, which is further detailed below.
       
  • To enhance the accountability of railroads for their own safety--
    • FRA has issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) that would require certain passenger railroads to develop and implement Risk Reduction Plans (RRPs), and another NPRM on requiring freight railroads to establish RRPs is in clearance in the Executive Branch.  These regulations are designed to encourage railroads to develop and implement systematic risk-based approaches to ensuring continuous safety improvement.
       
  • To address human-factors-caused accidents and resulting casualties--
    • FRA issued final rules to enable nationwide implementation of PTC systems as well as final rules on camp cars used as railroad employee sleeping quarters and on the hours of service of passenger train employees.  The latter draws on detailed research into the causes of train operator fatigue and analysis of thousands of operator work patterns.  A final rule on minimum training standards and plans is under Departmental review. 
    • FRA published in the FederalRegister detailed interim and final interpretations of the hours of service laws as amended by RSIA, and a second set of interim interpretations to be published in the FederalRegister, addressing additional issues, is in review in the Executive Branch. 
    • FRA issued a final rule requiring owners of railroad bridges to implement programs for inspection, maintenance, and management of those structures.

In addition to working on RSIA mandates, FRA has been advancing safety through other initiatives:

  • FRA is supporting the safety of proposed passenger rail operations, including line extensions, and shared-use and high-speed operations by providing techncal outreach, including training and information regarding safety regulations and system safety, to many new start commuter railroads, and FRA is currently working with several new operators. 
     
  • From funding provided for high-speed rail research and development, FRA has identified several key risk factors for corridors shared by passenger and freight operations.  Research to better understand these risks and find mitigations are currently underway. 
     
  • FRA is making important strides to address human-factors issues through an industry-wide initiative to combat the dangers of electronic device distraction in the railroad workplace.
     
  • FRA is implementing a voluntary, Confidential Close Call Reporting System program (C3RS) for railroads and their employees to report close calls without receiving disciplinary action.  The FY 2014 Budget proposes expanding the C3RS from a limited pilot project to a nation-wide rollout.  Experience at C3RS pilot sites has contributed, we believe, to a nearly 70-percent reduction in certain accidents at one of the most mature pilot sites.  Reductions in accidents come from a proactive culture of safety that uses real data far beyond that which can be pulled from accident investigations on a reactive basis.  Effective safety oversight is helped by having accurate data.  The magnitude of the information provided from proactive programs like C3RS in comparison to traditional data from accidents and injuries is illustrated below:

These achievements are not cause for complacency, but a foundation to build on, as we look for more and better cost-effective ways to improve the safety of our country’s rail network.

Key Challenges to Railroad Safety

By law, railroads are required to report an expansive universe of accidents, incidents, and events that occur in the course of operations.  FRA also investigates certain railroad accidents, and analyzes the data it receives and collects.  This information assists FRA in allocating and deploying inspection and oversight resources effectively, where they have the greatest positive impacts.

Train Accident Causes–2012

As illustrated above, 71 percent of all train accidents were the result of either human factors or the condition of railroad track in 2012.  FRA has focused on the reduction of those two accident categories as our highest priority.   

Human Factors

The leading cause of train accidents is human factors.

Positive Train Control Systems

RSIA provides that “the term ‘positive train control system’ means a system designed to prevent train-to-train collisions, over-speed derailments, incursions into established work zone limits, and the movement of a train through a switch left in the wrong position.”  49 U.S.C. 20157(i)(3).  FRA continues to work to support railroads in their implementation of PTC systems prior to RSIA’s December 31, 2015 statutory deadline.  In our August 2012 Report to Congress on PTC, FRA pointed out the technical and programmatic obstacles to meeting the statutory deadline.  Some railroads have publicly acknowledged that they will not be able to complete PTC implementation by the deadline.  FRA will continue to provide field engineering support and system testing oversight for PTC systems, and hopes to provide formal approval and system certification for the Southern California Regional Rail Authority’s PTC system this year. 

Further, FRA is working to eliminate obstacles to timely PTC system implementation by working with railroads, suppliers, and other government agencies to resolve critical path issues.  In the coming years, FRA will continue to work towards the certification of the systems used by other railroads and provide additional engineering support.  FRA will also work with Congress if it decides to change the statutory deadline.

Defective Track

The second-leading cause of train accidents is defective track.  Track defects comprise a wide universe of conditions, some serious and some relatively innocuous or inconsequential.  Some defects develop simply due to rail’s exposure to the natural environment, while others are the result of the stress of routine operations.  FRA’s Track Safety Standards govern all aspects of track structure and geometry, and require specific inspection and maintenance actions by railroads.  In addition to the recent and pending track rulemakings, which have already been discussed, FRA has embarked on an aggressive program to focus its track-related enforcement efforts on the most likely accident causes.  These efforts have helped move the track-caused accident rate in the proper direction.  Here, too, our research and development efforts are a critical component of our regulatory efforts and provide the basis for revisions to those regulations and best industry practices.

Most track-caused derailments occur at slow speed and are of minor consequence.  FRA has safety standards for all track, including low-speed track and the types of yard and industrial track on which the majority of these incidents occur.  However, more serious derailments can occur on mainline tracks that support passenger and high-tonnage freight trains at higher speeds.

To reduce the likelihood of track-caused derailments, FRA has taken action on several fronts: 

  • Our track inspection program includes FRA track experts who routinely accompany railroad track inspectors as they perform their duties inspecting all types of railroad track, switches and station areas.  
  • FRA track personnel help assure that track defects are discovered, properly documented, and repaired to monitor the condition of the track structure better. 
  • FRA uses a small fleet of very specialized railcars that accurately measure track geometry.  These cars find track defects and send out notifications to FRA and to the individual railroad that owns the track.  These cars are also used as “platforms” on which new inspection technologies can be tried and perfected.  These new technologies have improved the accuracy of track defect detection.  FRA geometry cars are world-class in their technology and accuracy.  Research and development are underway to automate many of these inspection technologies, which will enable FRA and the industry to monitor cost-effectively the state of repair of the rail network on a regular basis.

Highway-Rail Grade Crossing and Trespasser Safety

More than 90 percent of all rail-related fatalities in recent years have been the result of either trespassing on railroad rights of way or else accidents at highway-rail grade crossings.

Highway-Rail Grade Crossings

In recent years, highway-rail grade crossing accidents have resulted in the second-largest number of rail-related deaths in the United States, 33 percent of the total.  Yet grade crossing safety has shown vast improvement, as a result of substantial public investment in crossing warning devices and greater public awareness of the risks at grade crossings.  Accordingly, the number of grade crossing accident deaths has declined by 30 percent over the last decade.  FRA is fully committed to reducing the number, frequency, and severity of collisions at highway-rail grade crossings. 

Our multi-faceted approach to addressing highway-rail crossing safety is referred to as the “Three Es”:  Engineering, Enforcement, and Education.  Engineering activities include numerous rulemakings  (Locomotive Auxiliary Lights; Rail Car Reflectorization; Inspection, Testing and Maintenance Procedures for Grade Crossing Signal Systems; Use of Locomotive Horns at Public Crossings; and Telephonic Emergency Notification Systems) and advancing the state of technologies that improve safety for drivers, rail employees, and passengers.  FRA has long partnered with Operation Lifesaver, Inc., and State and local law enforcement authorities to facilitate grade crossing collision investigation courses and encourage consistent enforcement of highway traffic laws governing motorist behavior at crossings.

With funding from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), States have installed and upgraded crossing warning devices, especially at high-risk crossings.  Currently, $220 million is authorized annually for States to use to improve highway-rail grade crossings, and more than    $4 billion has been spent on crossings since 1974.  Determinations about which projects receive funding are made by State departments of transportation or public utility commissions, and must be based on objective analysis of the relative safety risks associated with each public highway-rail crossing.  In addition, under the grant program pursuant to the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act, section 1103(c), highway-rail grade crossings along designated high-speed rail corridors were eligible to receive Federal funding for a number of grade crossing hazard elimination activities.  FRA and FHWA jointly managed this program.  This funding was continued in subsequent surface transportation bills through SAFETEA-LU, and in FY 2012, $15 million was available for grants under the program. Applications were received from 12 States for $25.5 million.

Because fully one-half of all train-highway vehicle collisions occur at crossings that are equipped with active warning devices reported to be functioning as intended, FRA believes that rigorous enforcement of State laws with stiff sanctions for motorist violations of grade crossing signal and traffic laws is an effective strategy to reduce violations and collisions at crossings.  In September 2011, FRA provided model State legislation on highway-rail grade crossing violations by motorists.  FRA reviewed and evaluated existing State laws and drafted a model law that can be used by States seeking to strengthen their traffic laws.

New Technological Applications

Just this week, FRA announced the launch of a new smartphone application, available in the Apple App store, designed to help reduce the number of highway-rail grade crossing accidents.  The Grade Crossing Locator Application allows people to access information about highway-rail grade crossings in their area, helping them to make better decisions around the more than 200,000 highway-rail grade crossings in the United States.

The Grade Crossing Locator Application will enable people not only to locate highway-rail grade crossings in their area, but also to find out what type of traffic control devices are present, the physical characteristics of the crossing, and how many trains pass through daily.  FRA is using technology to innovate and connect with Americans about grade-crossing safety because we believe more information leads to smarter choices, driving down the number of accidents and saving lives.

Crossing and Trespassing Fatalities since 2003

Trespassing

The number of trespassing fatalities has decreased by 12 percent since 2003 (there were 498 fatalities in 2003 and 439 fatalities in 2012), but crossing fatalities have decreased more quickly.  Extremely difficult to address, trespassing is the most significant cause of death attributable to railroad operations in the United States.  Approximately 60 percent of all rail-related fatalities occur to individuals that are not authorized to be on railroad rights-of-way. 

FRA, through its research and development program, also developed a five-year strategy addressing trespassing and conducted a trespasser demographic study to better target trespass prevention efforts.  The study will be released shortly.  In addition, FRA sponsored a targeted, trespass prevention effort in West Palm Beach, Florida to develop a community-oriented mitigation measure that can be utilized by other communities.  In 2012, FRA co-sponsored with the Federal Transit Administration a Right-of-Way and Trespass Prevention Workshop that was attended by 174 industry stakeholders.  Twenty-three initiatives were identified for reducing trespass accidents.  These will form the core of FRA’s research and development work on this topic for the next two or three years.

Reauthorization Priorities

As you know, portions of two important rail laws expire at the end of FY 2013:  RSIA and the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA).  The President’s FY 2014 budget for FRA lays out a comprehensive, multi-year reauthorization blueprint for moving forward.  The fundamental goal of this proposal is to take a more coordinated approach to enhancing the Nation’s rail system–an integrated strategy that addresses safety and passenger and freight service improvements.  This new approach better reflects the complex reality of how rail works in the United States–most track is privately-owned and carries a mix of passenger and freight trains.  Safety is improved not just through regulations and inspections but also through capital investments; chokepoints often hinder the efficient movement of intercity passenger, commuter, and freight trains, while the elimination of grade crossings with strategic placement of overpasses and underpasses enhance rail, vehicular, and pedestrian safety. 

FRA’s reauthorization proposal’s key priorities include the following:

  • Enhancing world-class rail safety.  Rail is already among the safest modes of transportation, and rail safety has only been improving in recent years.  Nevertheless, better safety performance is imperative, and with innovative safety practices and new technologies, the railroad industry can achieve this goal.
  • Modernizing our rail infrastructure.  Past generations of Americans invested heavily in building the infrastructure we rely on today.  Most segments of the Northeast Corridor were built more than a century ago, for example.  Maintaining and modernizing these assets will lower long-term costs and result in a safer, more reliable rail system. 
  • Meeting the growing market demand. With 100 million more Americans expected by 2050, the national transportation system must be prepared to handle substantial increases in the movement of people and goods.  Given the existing capacity constraints on other modes, rail will play an increasingly vital role in balancing America’s transportation system by accommodating this growth, resulting in public benefits such as reduced reliance on foreign oil, reduced air pollution, increased safety, and more travel options.  This budget incorporates market-based investments in building or improving passenger rail corridors, eliminating rail chokepoints, adding freight capacity, and conducting comprehensive planning.
  • Promoting innovation. FRA’s vision is for the domestic rail industry to be again world-leading–we want U.S. companies to develop patents for state-of-the-art rail technology, to supply rail operators throughout the world, and to employ the best engineers and railway workers.  The United States should be exporting intellectual capital and rail products, not importing them. 
  • Ensuring transparency and accountability. Accomplishing the priorities described above can only occur if these programs are managed through a transparent process that makes it clear what public benefits and service improvements the American people are “buying” with their investments.  The roles and responsibilities of the Federal government, States, Amtrak, freight railroads, and other stakeholders must be clear and based on sound public policy. 

Need for Predictable Funding

An overarching issue that runs across all of these priorities is the need for sustained and predictable Federal funding for rail programs, similar to the treatment of other modes of transportation.  Congress has for decades funded highway infrastructure and safety, transit, and aviation programs through multi-year authorizations that provide guaranteed funding.  This enables States, local governments, and other stakeholders to plan for and make large-scale infrastructure investments on a year-to-year basis.  Likewise, internationally, other major rail systems have been planned and developed through a predictable multi-year funding program. 

The Administration proposes adopting this budgeting approach for rail, including authorizing mandatory contract authority through FY 2018 for FRA’s new rail programs. The programs would be funded from resources in a new Rail Account of the Transportation Trust Fund.

Rail Safety Reauthorization Proposals

RSIA was a key piece of legislation to enhance rail safety comprehensively.  The Act authorized 200 new safety positions over a five-year period, but less than a quarter were funded through appropriations.  The Act also required FRA to establish a railroad safety technology grant program with $50 million in funding annually for FYs 2009 through FY 2013, but FRA received only one year of funding.  For the last four and a half years, FRA has focused on establishing and implementing the regulations, programs, and other measures required by RSIA.  Looking ahead, FRA is poised to begin fully implementing these regulations in an effort to drive safety rates to further record lows.  In FRA’s FY 2014 budget proposal, we have requested 30 new safety staff including 10 regional safety inspectors and 20 railroad safety specialists to directly support implementation of RSIA. The culture of continuous improvement in FRA’s safety programs requires forward-thinking policies and proactive work to address future challenges.  FRA is exploring options for addressing a number of important safety regulatory issues, including the following:

  • PTC—As discussed earlier, RSIA mandates that PTC be implemented across a significant portion of the Nation’s rail network by December 31, 2015.  With limited exceptions and exclusions, PTC is required to be installed and implemented on Class I railroad main lines (i.e., lines with over 5 million gross tons annually), over which any poisonous- or toxic-inhalation hazard commodities are transported; and on any railroad’s main lines over which regularly scheduled intercity passenger or commuter operations are operated. 
    • In all, approximately 70,000 miles of track and 20,000 locomotives will have to be equipped with interoperable PTC technology.  While some railroads will meet the deadline, many are likely to be challenged by technological and programmatic barriers. 
    • In a report to Congress last year, FRA highlighted radio frequency spectrum challenges that could impact timely PTC system implementation.In addition, the railroads must secure licensing approval from the Federal Communications Commission to install the approximately 22,000 antennas necessary to implement PTC.
    • FRA’s report also detailed obstacles faced by the industry and outlined mitigation strategies for Congressional consideration, including the extension of the PTC implementation deadline and alternative methods of mitigating the risks prevented by PTC systems.
  • Hours of service—In 2011 FRA issued fatigue-science-based hours of service regulations for passenger train employees under new authority granted by RSIA.  FRA would like to evaluate the benefits and costs of continuing on this course and focus on addressing other fatigue issues with possible expanded authority to regulate the hours of service of other train employees, signal employees, and dispatching service employees based on sound science.  Other modal administrations within the U.S. Department of Transportation already have broad safety regulatory authority over hours of service. It may not be necessary to regulate in these areas.
  • Grade crossing analyses—FRA would welcome the opportunity to work with Congress to establish an appropriate framework for addressing grade crossing issues related to blocked crossings and commercial motor vehicle accidents and incidents at crossings. 
  • Harmonize operating rules—FRA plans to evaluate the benefits and costs of harmonizing railroad operating rules.  Each railroad has its own set of operating rules that may differ significantly from one division to another and from one railroad to another.  Many operating crew employees are required to learn multiple different operating rules in order to operate safely in a single tour of duty.  Harmonizing operating rules will likely reduce unnecessary confusion and create a safer working environment.
  • Improve protection of risk reduction and system safety analyses with respect to property damage claims—For a risk reduction program to be effective, FRA must have confidence that railroads are conducting robust analyses to accurately identify risks present.  FRA will continue to work to balance the interests of safety and the public interest with respect to the litigation protection afforded the railroads in conducting these analyses.
  • Modernize statutory safety requirements—FRA would also like to modernize certain existing statutory requirements to better reflect current and future innovations and technologies.  For instance, statutory requirements related to the movement of defective equipment could be updated to provide greater flexibility to FRA in handling such issues.  Similarly, existing statutory language related to locomotives could be revised to account for modern locomotive and locomotive tender design and allow FRA to more readily tackle the safety issues related to the industry’s recently expressed desire to achieve fuel efficiencies through use of liquefied natural gas-powered locomotives.
  • Encourage noise mitigation—Current Environmental Protection Agency rules for railroad noise emissions do not consider the use of noise mitigation technologies and may be an obstacle to the deployment of high-speed passenger rail.  Alternative rules may encourage railroads to reduce the impact of noise emissions on communities surrounding rail operations.
  • Research, Development, and Technology—To date, FRA’s research has centered on core rail safety issues such as hours of service and train control systems.  The President’s vision for rail includes expanding passenger service across the Nation and increasing train speed.  While developing a modern rail system, FRA must continue to ensure that rail remains an extremely safe mode of transportation.  Consequently, FRA must undertake a new line of research that solves the technical and associated issues necessary for implementing a comprehensive high-performance rail system.  FRA proposes a new Research Development and Technology Program, funded at $55 million in FY 2014.  Through this program, FRA will make upgrades to the Transportation Technology Center in Pueblo, Colorado that will allow new rail equipment to be tested.  This will result in stronger safety standards and early identification of reliability issues, saving maintenance costs over the long run, developing a domestic workforce for rail initiatives, and ensuring better passenger service.

Conclusion

Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today.  Safety is FRA’s number one priority, and we appreciate your attention and focus on such an important issue for the American public.  We look forward to working with this Committee to pursue improvements in our safety programs and make our rail network as safe, reliable, and efficient as possible.  I will be happy to respond to your questions.

# # #

Appendix

FRA Rulemakings Completed as of June 1, 2013, that Were Mandated, Explicitly or Implicitly, by RSIA

  1. To specify the essential functionalities of mandated PTC systems, define related statutory terms, and identify additional lines for implementation. (Sec. 104). 
  2. To establish substantive hours of service requirements for passenger train employees.  (Sec. 108(d)). 
  3. To update existing hours of service recordkeeping regulations.  (Sec.108(f)).
  4. To require State-specific action plans from certain States to improve safety at highway-rail grade crossings.  (Sec. 202). 
  5. To require toll-free telephone emergency notification numbers for reporting problems at public and private highway-rail grade crossings.  (Sec. 205).    
  6. To require the certification of conductors. (Sec. 402). 
  7. On concrete ties. (Sec. 403(d))
  8. To require owners of railroad bridges to implement programs for inspection, maintenance, and management of those structures. (Sec. 417). 
  9. On camp cars used as railroad employee sleeping quarters. (Sec. 420). 
  10. On prohibition of individuals from performing safety-sensitive functions for a violation of hazardous materials transportation law. (Sec. 305).
  11.  On emergency waivers. (Sec. 308). 
  12. Increase the ordinary maximum and aggravated maximum civil penalties per violation for rail safety violations to $25,000 and $100,000, respectively. (Sec. 302). 
  13. Amending regulations of the Office of the Secretary of Transportation to provide that the Secretary delegates to the Administrator of FRA the responsibility to carry out the Secretary’s responsibilities under RSIA. 

Completed RSIA-Mandated Guidance and Model State Laws

  1. On pedestrian safety at or near rail passenger stations (guidance).  (Sec. 201). 
  1. For the administration of the authority to buy items of nominal value and distribute them to the public as part of a crossing safety or railroad trespass prevention program (guidance).  (Sec. 208(c)). 
  1. Model State law on highway users’ sight distances at passively signed highway-rail grade crossings.  (Sec. 203). 
  1. Model State law on motorists’ violations of grade crossing warning devices. (Sec. 208)

Completed RSIA-Mandated Non-periodic Reports or Studies

  1. Report to Congress on DOT’s long-term (minimum 5-year) strategy for improving rail safety, including annual plans and schedules for achieving specified statutory goals, to be submitted with the President’s annual budget. (Sec. 102).  
  2. Report to Congress on the progress of railroads’ implementation of PTC.  (Sec. 104).  
  3. Conduct study to evaluate whether it is in the public interest to withhold from discovery or admission, in certain judicial proceedings for damages, the reports and data compiled to implement, etc., a required risk reduction program.  (Sec. 109). 
  4. Evaluate and review current local, State, and Federal laws regarding trespassing on railroad property, vandalism affecting railroad safety, and violations of highway-rail grade crossing warning devices.  (Sec. 208(a)).
  5. Report to Congress on the results of DOT research about track inspection intervals, etc. (Sec. 403(a)-(b)).
  6. Conduct study of methods to improve or correct passenger station platform gaps (Sec. 404).
  7. Report to Congress detailing the results of DOT research about use of personal electronic devices in the locomotive cab by safety-related railroad employees. (Sec. 405).
  8. Report to Congress on DOT research about the effects of repealing a provision exempting Consolidated Rail Corporation, etc., from certain labor-related laws (45 U.S.C. § 797j).  (Sec. 408). 
  9. Report to Congress on the results of DOT research about exposure of railroad employees and others to radiation.  (Sec. 411). 
  10. Report to Congress on DOT study on the expected safety effects of reducing inspection frequency of diesel-electric locomotives in limited service by railroad museums.  (Sec. 415). 
  11. Report to Congress on model plans and recommendations, to be developed through a task force to be established by DOT, to help railroads respond to passenger rail accidents. (Sec. 503).        

                                                                 

Passenger Rail Safety: Accident Prevention and On-Going Efforts to Implement Train Contrrol Technology

WRITTEN STATEMENT OF

ROBERT C. LAUBY
ASSOCIATE ADMINISTRATOR FOR RAILROAD SAFETY &
CHIEF SAFETY OFFICER,
FEDERAL RAILROAD ADMINISTRATION,

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION

BEFORE THE

COMMITTEE ON COMMERCE, SCIENCE, AND TRANSPORTATION
U.S. SENATE

“PASSENGER RAIL SAFETY: ACCIDENT PREVENTION AND
ON-GOING EFFORTS TO IMPLEMENT TRAIN CONTROL TECHNOLOGY”

June 10, 2015

Thank you, Chairman Thune and Ranking Member Nelson for inviting me to appear before you today to discuss passenger rail safety.  I want to start by extending our deepest sympathies to the victims and their loved ones of the May 12th Amtrak accident in Philadelphia.  Safety drives everything we do at the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and when an accident claims innocent lives and injures from so many it is truly painful for the FRA family.  I assure you that FRA will take every step it can to prevent accidents like this from happening again.

FRA continues to investigate the circumstances surrounding the accident.  While it will take time to complete the investigation, FRA has not and will not wait to take actions that will improve the safety of Amtrak and other passenger rail operations.  For example, on May 16, 4 days after the accident, Acting Administrator Sarah Feinberg directed Amtrak to take several actions before allowing its operations to resume north of Philadelphia.  We followed those directives with an Emergency Order (Emergency Order 31) on May 21.  Amtrak has complied with those directives thus far, and FRA will ensure that Amtrak follows through to fully implement them.

When we released the May 21st Emergency Order, we also stated that we were considering taking additional steps at other passenger railroads that may have similar curve and speed issues.  We continue our work on those directives and plan to release additional information about that work.

And while the cause of this accident has not been officially determined, we know that overspeed was a significant factor and that human error may be involved.  Human error, or human factor, accidents as described in our accident data base remain the leading cause of all rail accidents. They are also the most difficult to address.  Despite those difficulties, FRA is preparing a package of actions that we will finalize in the coming weeks and months aimed at addressing human factor safety issues – safety issues such as speeding, distraction, fatigue and training.  These actions may include additional emergency orders, safety advisories, rulemakings, voluntary agreements, or other initiatives.  

Beyond those next steps, I want to assure you that FRA is firmly committed to taking additional actions – as many as it takes – to mitigate the risks and hazards identified in the ongoing investigation. 

There has been a significant amount of public discussion about what could have prevented this accident.  Which specific technology?  Which new regulation?  The reality is that Positive Train Control (PTC) is specifically designed to prevent overspeed accidents.   If the cause of this incident was overspeed, it would have been prevented by PTC.  As this Committee is well aware, PTC is the single most important railroad safety technological development in more than a century, and it is absolutely necessary to ensuring the kind of safety that we expect on our rail system.  Safety is FRA’s highest priority and despite the challenges facing full implementation of PTC, FRA’s role is to enforce the December 31, 2015, deadline that Congress imposed, and to ensure that railroads implement PTC as safely and efficiently as possible. 

When railroads submitted their Initial PTC Implementation Plan (PTCIP) in 2010, they stated they would meet the 2015 deadline per the requirements of the Railroad Safety Improvement Act (RSIA).  All the submitted plans assumed that there would be few, if any technical and programmatic issues related to the design, development, integration, deployment, and testing that would require resolution. 

In 2013, U.S. Class I[1] railroads operated approximately 162,000 miles of track, 60,000 miles of which potentially require the installation of PTC[2] under the current laws and regulations.  Intercity passenger and commuter railroad operations account for an additional estimated 8,400[3] miles of track that is required to be equipped with PTC.

FRA has been actively pushing the railroads to have PTC fully implemented by the deadline.  We have met with the railroads for years on this issue, we have hired staff to assist and oversee the implementation of the technology, we have urged the timely submission of PTC development and safety plans, we have discussed progress with individual railroads and with the Association of American Railroads (AAR), and we have worked directly with the FCC to resolve issues related to spectrum.  Acting Administrator Feinberg also established a PTC Implementation Team that is aggressively managing this critical, Congressionally-mandated safety technology that will reduce the risk of human factor caused accidents and save lives.

For more than three years, FRA has been sounding the alarm that most railroads have not made sufficient progress to meet the December 2015 deadline.  We have noted that the certification and installation of PTC systems are significant undertakings.  FRA highlighted its concerns about PTC implementation in its August 2012 PTC report to Congress, as well as in the GROW AMERICA Act[4].  Among those are the following challenges:

  • Design Specification Availability
  • Back office Servers and Dispatch System Availability
  • Track Database Verification
  • Installation Engineering
  • Communications Spectrum Availability
  • Radio Availability
  • Reliability and Availability
  • Funding

FRA has long stated that a lack of public sector funding may cause unwanted delays in fully implementing PTC.  FRA has requested funding for PTC development and implementation grants in every budget request dating back to Fiscal Year (FY) 2011.  For the past two years, as part of the GROW AMERICA Act, FRA has requested $825 million to assist commuter railroads with the implementation of PTC, as well as additional funding to aid with the implementation of PTC on Amtrak’s national network. 

Despite a lack of federal funding directed to commuter railroads, FRA is using the resources it has available now to assist railroads in implementing PTC.  For example, FRA issued a $967.1 million loan through the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) program to the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the nation’s largest commuter railroad provider, to facilitate the deployment of the technology.

In addition to the same practical and logistical project management challenges affecting the freight railroads, intercity and commuter passenger railroads face other challenges due to their public sector nature and heavy reliance upon operating subsidies.  These railroads must advance PTC system implementation within a fiscal environment already constrained by the limited availability of capital funds.  FRA expects that when PTC technology is fully mature, it will  have a positive, transformative impact on railroad safety and operating efficiency in the decades to come. 

If, on January 1, 2016, railroads required to implement PTC systems are in violation of this statutory deadline, FRA will take appropriate enforcement actions consistent with its statutory authority and regulatory oversight responsibilities to achieve compliance.  Stakeholders and the Congress have asked FRA for guidance on how to approach concerns about railroads not meeting the mandated deadline.  To address those concerns, the GROW AMERICA Act the Department submitted to Congress in April 2014 and March 2015 proposed that FRA be granted authority to review, approve, and provisionally certify PTC plans on a railroad-by-railroad basis.  FRA asked for this authority so that it could continue to assist the railroads to get PTC implemented as quickly as possible for it is only through implementation of PTC that accidents like the derailment of Amtrak train 188 can truly be prevented.

Provisional certification would also give FRA the authority to establish conditions to ensure railroads raise the bar on safety and establish appropriate back stops even as they continue to work towards full PTC implementation.  GROW AMERICA would also provide FRA the authority to establish implementation milestones, use alternative methods of protection in lieu of PTC systems to achieve safety improvements and require coordination between the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to assess required spectrum needs and availability to implement PTC systems.  GROW AMERICA also proposes to provide more than $3 billion over 6 years to help pay for PTC implementation on publicly-funded commuter railroads and Amtrak routes.

To summarize, FRA has actively supported deployment of PTC through the issuance of performance-based regulations and technical assistance documents to aid railroads, manufacturers, and suppliers to achieve full PTC functionality and interoperability.  Over the course of several decades, FRA and the railroad industry have sponsored and conducted numerous research and technology demonstration projects to evaluate or improve upon signal and train control technologies that have evolved into what is now known as PTC.  Since 2000 FRA has published over 50 technical reports, several Research Results, and numerous other reports to support its rulemaking activities.  FRA has also built a PTC system test bed at its Transportation Technology Center in Pueblo, CO.  This facility is available to the railroad industry as they work to successfully integrate and test all of component technologies necessary to achieve implementation.

The difficulties being encountered, while not insurmountable, are highly complex and require a significant investment of time, people, and resources to successfully resolve.  The public policy implications of railroads failing to meet the PTC deadline are serious.  FRA has been dedicating resources and working diligently to support the industry for years to achieve full PTC implementation where required by the statutory deadline.  If Congress provides FRA the authority and flexibility as requested in the GROW AMERICA Act, then PTC implementation can be managed safely, efficiently, and effectively.

In conclusion, safety will always be FRA’s first priority.  We appreciate this Committee’s attention and focus on issues related to railroad safety.  Again, I want to express our deepest sorrow for the victims and their families. We look forward to working with this Committee to improve our programs and make the American rail network as safe, reliable, and efficient as possible.  I am happy to respond to your questions.


[1] BNSF Railway, CSX Transportation, Grand Trunk Corporation (Canadian National Railway U.S. subsidiary), Kansas City Southern Railway, Norfolk Southern Railway Combined Railroad Subsidiaries, Soo Line Corporation (Canadian Pacific Railway U.S. subsidiary), and Union Pacific Railroad.

[2] “Class 1 Railroad and US Freight Railroad Statistics” Association of American Railroads, 2014.  This equates to roughly 95,700 miles of the U.S. rail network of roughly 140,000 miles.

[3] 2012 Transit Way Mileage-Rail Modes, American Public Transportation Association, http://www.apta.com/resources/statistics/Pages/NTDDataTables.aspx, accessed 15 Dec 2014.

[4] The Secretary of Transportation submitted the GROW AMERICA Act to Congress on March 30, 2015.  “GROW AMERICA” stands for “Generating Renewal, Opportunity, and Work with Accelerated Mobility, Efficiency, and Rebuilding of Infrastructure and Communities throughout America.

The State of Positive Train Control Implementation in the United States

WRITTEN STATEMENT OF

SARAH FEINBERG
ACTING ADMINISTRATOR,
FEDERAL RAILROAD ADMINISTRATION

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION

BEFORE THE

COMMITTEE ON TRANSPORTATION AND INFRASTRUCTURE,
SUBCOMMITTEE ON RAILROADS, PIPELINES, AND HAZARDOUS MATERIALS
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

"The State of Positive Train Control Implementation in the United States"

June 24, 2015

 

Chairman Denham, Ranking Member Capuano, and Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss issues related to positive train control (PTC) implementation in the United States.

PTC technology is arguably the single most important railroad safety technological development in more than a century.  The technology is not new—early versions of PTC technology existed in the early 20th century—and regulators and safety advocates have been calling on the rail industry to implement some form of PTC technology for many decades.

The Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (RSIA) requires our current version of PTC (i.e., the type that is designed to prevent train-to-train collisions, over-speed derailments, train incursions into established work zones, and movement of a train through a switch left in the wrong position) to be fully installed and implemented by December 31, 2015.  RSIA requires the technology to be implemented on Class I railroad main lines—lines with 5 million or more gross tons annually—over which any poisonous or toxic by inhalation hazardous materials are transported (with limited exceptions and exclusions).  RSIA also mandates the technology on any railroad’s main line over which regularly scheduled intercity or commuter rail passenger service is conducted. 

FRA currently estimates that this will equate to approximately 70,000 route miles of track and will involve approximately 20,000 locomotives.  

Since passage of RSIA, railroads submitted their PTC Implementation Plans (PTCIP) to FRA in 2010.  Each plan documented a path to implementation that would meet the deadline.

As I have stated before this Committee previously, and as I state again today in no uncertain terms, safety is the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) top priority.  Simply put, the rail system is not as safe as it could be without full implementation of PTC.  A safe rail system requires full implementation of Positive Train Control.  Therefore, FRA will enforce the December 31, 2015, deadline for implementation, as mandated by Congress.

If PTC is not fully implemented by January 1, 2016, we can and should expect there to be accidents in the months and years to follow that PTC could have prevented.  We owe it to the public to ensure that PTC-preventable accidents, such as the Amtrak Train 188 derailment north of Philadelphia on May 12, 2015, do not occur by ensuring that certified, fully-operational PTC systems are in place on the routes that require them as quickly as possible.

Enforcement Policy

In the nearly seven years since RSIA was passed and in the four and a half years since the railroads submitted their PTC Implementation Plans, the freight and passenger railroad industry has worked to develop PTC systems that will meet Federal statutory and regulatory requirements.  

During this time, FRA has observed a wide range of efforts and resources that have been applied to PTC by different railroads.  Some have diligently worked to implement this technology on time, some have worked to make progress on implementation but have been stymied by costs or spectrum availability, and some have chosen not to make implementation a priority.

FRA has noted previously that the implementation and certification of PTC systems are significant undertakings—implementation of PTC is both expensive and complicated.  However, the challenges of implementing PTC are not insurmountable, particularly several decades after the introduction of PTC technology, two decades following NTSB recommendations, seven years following passage of RSIA, and more than four years following official FRA guidance.

The following is a summary of FRA’s enforcement policy under our current authorities.  The enforcement policy presented below is designed to bring railroads that are in violation of the deadline into compliance with the law as soon as safely possible.

  • FRA can assess civil monetary penalties starting January 1, 2016.
  • Fines vary based on a railroad’s failure to comply with Federal PTC regulations.  FRA’s PTC penalty guidelines establish different penalties depending on the violation. Examples include a $2,500 fine for a non-willful failure to keep records and a $25,000 fine for willful failure to complete PTC system installation on a track segment.  FRA may assess the penalties per violation per day
  • FRA reserves the right to use any and all enforcement tools from civil penalties to emergency orders, to require the railroads to make progress on PTC implementation to ensure public safety prior to January 1, 2016.

Many railroads have stated publicly that despite significant enforcement and liability concerns, they still will not meet the December 31, 2015, deadline.

In light of the concerns that some railroads would not meet the deadline, the Department’s GROW AMERICA Act[1] submitted to Congress in April 2014 and March 2015 proposed that the Congress provide FRA with additional authorities that would address the safety gap that will exist for many railroads between January 1, 2016, and full PTC implementation.  The Department requested these new authorities to allow FRA to review, approve, and require interim safety measures for individual railroads that may fail to meet the PTC deadline (such as allowing portions of PTC to be turned on for certain segments rather than waiting for an entire system to be completed; the goal of these interim safety requirements is to ensure adequate safety for railroads that miss the PTC deadline.  

These interim requirements will not serve as an extension of the PTC deadline; rather they are strictly designed to enable FRA to bring railroads into compliance safely.

FRA recommends that Congress:

  1. Grant FRA authority over PTC systems and their operation under controlled conditions before final system certification is complete.  This would allow for the incremental use of PTC systems as they are progressively rolled out and simultaneously increase operating safety because railroads could “turn on” portions of PTC on certain segments of track prior to turning on the technology for the entire system; and   
     
  2. Authorize FRA to require railroad use of alternative safety technologies on specified line segments in lieu of PTC until PTC is fully implemented.

These interim requirements will likely be costly to railroads, but FRA believes they will save lives while bridging the gap to successful PTC implementation.

Status of PTC Implementation

FRA Action

In the seven years since passage of RSIA, FRA has dedicated significant resources and worked closely with the railroad industry on PTC, including taking the following steps: 

  • Hiring staff to assist and oversee the implementation of PTC technology;
  • Urging timely submission of PTC development and safety plans;
  • Discussing progress with individual railroads and with the Association of American Railroads (AAR) and American Public Transportation Association (APTA);
  • Working directly with the Federal Communications Commission to resolve issues related to spectrum and improve the approval process related to PTC communication towers;
  • Actively supporting deployment of PTC through the issuance of RSIA-mandated performance-based regulations in January 2010 as well as additional regulations that lightened the regulatory burden and technical assistance documents to aid railroads, manufacturers, and suppliers to achieve full PTC functionality and interoperability;
  • Building a PTC system test bed at the Transportation Technology Center in Pueblo, CO (which is available to railroads as they work to successfully integrate and test all of component technologies necessary to achieve implementation); and
  • Making loans available through the Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing (RRIF) program to applicants interested in assistance in paying for PTC implementation.

Railroads and Implementation

When railroads submitted their PTCIPs in 2010, they stated they would meet the 2015 deadline per the requirements of RSIA.  All submitted plans acknowledged that there would be few, if any, technical and programmatic issues related to the design, development, integration, deployment, and testing of PTC systems that would require resolution.

For more than three years, FRA has monitored these technical and programmatic aspects and has sounded the alarm that most railroads are not making sufficient progress to meet the December 2015 deadline.  FRA highlighted its concerns about PTC implementation in its August 2012 PTC report to Congress, as well as in the GROW AMERICA Act, and multiple public remarks, statements, and congressional testimony.

For those railroads that do not meet the PTC deadline, our goal is to achieve full PTC implementation as safely and efficiently as possible.

To facilitate implementation, I have established a PTC Implementation Team that is aggressively managing and monitoring the railroads’ progress so that we have accurate and critical information to inform our enforcement actions.  This team supplements additional staff working on PTC implementation full time. The team monitors the status of each railroad’s PTC implementation, works with the railroad to gather data and answer questions, and tracks when the railroad will have a fully operational system.  

Accurate and timely data from the railroads is essential to FRA’s effectiveness.  Recently, FRA received updated information about PTC implementation from 32 of the 38 railroads that we are currently tracking for enforcement purposes.  Initial analysis, along with supplementary data from AAR, indicates the following:

Class I railroads have:

  • Completed or partially completed installations of more than 50 percent of locomotives that require PTC equipment;
  • Deployed approximately 50 percent of wayside interface units;
  • Replaced approximately 50 percent of signals that need replacement; and
  • Completed most of the required mapping for PTC tracks.

By the end of 2015, AAR projects that:

  • 39 percent of locomotives will be fully equipped;
  • 76 percent of wayside interface units will be installed;
  • 67 percent of base station radios will be installed; and
  • 34 percent of required employees will be trained.

According to APTA, 29 percent of commuter railroads, excluding Amtrak, are targeting to complete installation of PTC equipment by the end of 2015.  Full implementation of PTC for all commuter lines is projected by 2020.  

A recent status update from Amtrak states: 

  • 85 percent of locomotives have been equipped with PTC to date, including approximately 97 percent of locomotives for the Northeast Corridor (NEC);
  • 63 percent of track miles have been mapped;
  • For the NEC, New Haven, CT to Boston, MA and portions of the railroad between New York, NY and Washington, DC, have PTC in service presently. 
  • By December 2015, PTC will be in service throughout the sections of the NEC operated and maintained by Amtrak.  This will leave a 56 mile section without PTC on the segment owned by the states of New York and Connecticut that Metro-North Railroad operates and maintains.  The Harold Interlocking, owned by Long Island Railroad, in Queens, NY also lacks PTC deployment; and
  • Outside of the NEC, PTC is currently in service on the 97 miles of the Michigan Line owned by Amtrak between Porter, IN and Kalamazoo, MI.  By December 2015, the Amtrak-owned Keystone Corridor from Philadelphia, PA to Harrisburg, PA and the Empire Connection in New York will also be completed and in service.

FRA Financial Support for PTC

FRA has long stated that a lack of public sector funding may result in unwanted delays in fully implementing PTC.  FRA has requested funding for PTC development and implementation grants in every budget request dating back to Fiscal Year (FY) 2011. 

For the past two years, as part of the GROW AMERICA Act, FRA has requested $825 million to assist commuter railroads with the implementation of PTC and additional funding to aid with the implementation of PTC on Amtrak’s national network.

It is important to note that safety benefits, including those generated through the implementation of PTC, are a key criterion in FRA’s grant programs.  To that end, FRA has provided approximately $650 million in grant funds to support PTC.  This includes American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 grants through our High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail program as well as Amtrak grants and other annual appropriations.

In addition to mandating the December 31, 2015, PTC implementation deadline, the RSIA also authorized a grant program to assist in the deployment of PTC and other rail safety technology.  Congress appropriated $50 million for the program in FY 2010.  FRA awarded these funds to ten projects to help mitigate technical PTC deployment challenges affecting stakeholders.  FRA recently added an additional $11 million from new authority provided under the FY 2014 Consolidated Appropriations Act for a total of $61 million in Railroad Safety Technology Grants.

Despite the lack of sufficient funding directed to commuter railroads, FRA is using the resources it has available to help railroads implement PTC.  On May 6, 2015, FRA issued a $967 million loan through the RRIF program to the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the Nation’s largest commuter railroad provider, to facilitate deployment of the technology by Metro-North Railroad and Long Island Rail Road.

Conclusion

Thank you for the opportunity to testify and answer your questions today.  Safety is FRA’s first priority, and we appreciate your attention and focus on issues related to the impending deadline for PTC implementation and our enforcement policy for railroads that do not meet the deadline.

We look forward to working with this Subcommittee to improve our programs and make the American rail network as safe, reliable, and efficient as possible.  I will be happy to respond to your questions.

 

[1]The Secretary of Transportation submitted the GROW AMERICA Act to Congress on March 30, 2015.  “GROW AMERICA” stands for “Generating Renewal, Opportunity, and Work with Accelerated Mobility, Efficiency, and Rebuilding of Infrastructure and Communities throughout America.”

Oversight of the Amtrak Accident in Philadelphia

WRITTEN STATEMENT OF SARAH FEINBERG,
ACTING ADMINISTRATOR, FEDERAL RAILROAD ADMINISTRATION,
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION

BEFORE THE
COMMITTEE ON TRANSPORTATION AND INFRASTRUCTURE,
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

"OVERSIGHT OF THE AMTRAK ACCIDENT IN PHILADELPHIA"

June 2, 2015

Chairman Shuster, Ranking Member DeFazio, and Members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss issues related to the tragic derailment of Amtrak Train 188 on May 12, 2015, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. We extend our deepest sympathies to the victims of this accident, and to their loved ones. And I can assure them that we will take every step we can to ensure an accident like this cannot happen again.

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) understands the need to take action quickly to address the cause or causes of this incident. While it will take time to complete the investigation, we did not and will not wait to take immediate actions that will improve the safety of Amtrak operations on the Northeast Corridor (NEC), as well as other passenger rail operations. On May 16, FRA outlined steps necessary for Amtrak to take before allowing its operations to resume north of Philadelphia, and we followed that with an Emergency Order on May 21. These were our initial actions and we are doing more.

The FRA team has been working closely with our partners at the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to investigate the cause of the May 12th derailment. Today, I will provide the Committee information that we have confirmed. Then, I will focus on FRA’s process to complete its investigation, and describe the actions we have taken in direct response to this tragedy. Next, I will address several broader safety issues highlighted by the derailment, including implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC) technology and key human factor issues.

As you know, the railroad industry has made remarkable safety improvements over the last decade. However, the devastating effects from an accident like the May 12th derailment make clear that we still have hard work ahead to make rail transportation as safe as possible, particularly when technology exists that can prevent some of the most tragic accidents. With that in mind, I want to assure you that FRA is firmly committed to taking additional actions that will mitigate and or eliminate the risks and hazards identified in the ongoing investigation.

Amtrak Train 188 Derailment in Philadelphia

On Tuesday, May 12, 2015, Amtrak Northeast Regional Train 188 (Train 188) departed Washington, D.C.’s Union Station at 7:15 p.m., traveling northbound on the Northeast Corridor (NEC) on the way to Penn Station in New York City. Train 188 made five stops before the accident, the last being at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station, where it arrived at 9:06 p.m. and departed at 9:10 p.m., from track No. 4. At approximately 9:21 p.m. and 9 miles from the 30th Street Station, the train derailed near milepost 81.63 while traveling through a curve at Frankford Junction.

According to Amtrak, at the time of the derailment there were five Amtrak crewmembers, three Amtrak commuting employees and 250 passengers aboard, occupying approximately 50 percent of the train’s capacity. Train 188’s consist was conventional for Amtrak Northeast Regional Service - consisting of an ACS-64 locomotive, six Amfleet1 passenger coaches and one café car. As a result of the accident, eight passengers were killed, many were seriously injured, and many more had lesser injuries. Some passengers remain in the hospital today.

I learned of the derailment within approximately 30 minutes of its occurrence and immediately dispatched investigative personnel to the scene. The initial FRA team included a Regional Administrator, a Deputy Regional Administrator and five rail safety inspectors from the following disciplines: signal and train control; track, motive power and equipment; and operating practices. A safety specialist from our Passenger Rail Division was also on-scene that night and my Chief Safety Officer joined them the next morning.

After dispatching the investigative team, I travelled to the scene that same evening and witnessed the heroic actions of the first responders as they rescued passengers and provided medical treatment. The Philadelphia Police and Fire Departments, other first responders, and the citizens who provided water and assistance were all instrumental in alleviating the immediate needs after this tragic accident. I commend them for their immediate and impressive response.

After the initial emergency response efforts, FRA began its investigation – working in close coordination with the NTSB and Amtrak - to collect, secure, and preserve critical forensic information, including the event recorder data, forward-facing locomotive camera video footage, phone and radio transmission recordings, records of mechanical and track inspection and maintenance, and records related to the train crew’s work history, qualification, and rules compliance. Also, FRA subpoenaed the engineer’s cell phone records, which we shared with the NTSB.

FRA personnel also assisted in conducting interviews with passengers to ascertain their location inside the cars and their use of emergency egress points, as well as with emergency responders to identify any problems with the initial rescue efforts.

Over the subsequent six days, FRA personnel continued their close work with the NTSB to conduct additional inspection, testing, and research. The investigation team collected, verified and analyzed data related to:

(1) the track condition;

(2) on-board mechanical equipment including, the locomotive throttle, alerter, braking system, event recorder; and

(3) locomotive cab and wayside signal operation.

FRA also interviewed Amtrak, Conrail and Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority employees. Three personnel from U.S. DOT’s Volpe National Transportation Systems Center traveled to the accident site to support FRA and NTSB in collecting information about the crashworthiness performance of the passenger cars.

As has been widely covered by the media, FRA’s and NTSB’s investigation revealed that as Train 188 approached the curve from the south, it was traveling over a straightaway with a maximum authorized passenger train speed of 80 mph. The maximum authorized passenger train speed for the curve was 50 mph. The event recorder data indicate that the train was traveling approximately 106 mph when it was in the curve’s 50-mph speed restriction, exceeding the maximum authorized speed on the straightaway by 26 mph, and the maximum authorized speed of the curve by 56 mph.1

The event recorder data also indicate the locomotive engineer made an emergency application of Train 188’s air brake system, slowing the train to approximately 102 mph before derailing in the curve.

FRA’s Investigation

FRA’s primary goal in its investigation is to prevent this type of accident from ever occurring again by determining whether the railroad or its employees violated any statutes, regulations or orders, and whether any immediate enforcement or corrective action is necessary to remedy the circumstances related to the accident. The FRA Investigator in Charge (IIC) is working closely with our mechanical, operating practice, signal, and track disciplines to determine if any federal regulations were violated and to ensure that all of Amtrak’s safety and operating rules were followed. This includes compliance with hours of service laws and regulations, electronic devices prohibitions, track and signal inspections, and numerous other requirements.

Immediate Response and Initial Steps

In response to the derailment, FRA instructed Amtrak to take immediate actions to ensure the safe operation of passenger trains on the Northeast Corridor (NEC). FRA has formalized these requirements in its May 21st Emergency Order No. 31 (EO 31). The Order contains the following requirements (2) :

  • Amtrak must immediately implement code changes to its Automatic Train Control (ATC) System to enforce the passenger train speed limit ahead of the curve at Frankford Junction. This was completed on May 17th.
     
  • By May 26th, Amtrak must survey the NEC ATC system and identify each main track curve where there is a reduction of more than 20 mph from the maximum authorized approach speed to that curve for passenger trains, and provide a list of each curve location to FRA. This list was submitted to FRA on May 26th.
     
  • By June 10th, Amtrak must submit an action plan for FRA-approval identifying modifications to its ATC System (or other signal systems) that Amtrak will make to enable warning and enforcement of applicable passenger train speeds at the identified curves. If such modifications would interfere with the timely implementation of a PTC system or are not otherwise feasible, Amtrak’s plan must describe alternative procedures that it will adopt at the identified curves to ensure compliance with applicable passenger train speed limits. Amtrak’s plan must also contain milestones and target dates for completion of action plan items. FRA must approve or disapprove Amtrak’s plan within 15 days of the plan’s submission to FRA.
     
  • By June 20th, Amtrak must begin to install additional wayside signage throughout its NEC system alerting engineers and conductors of the maximum authorized passenger train speed, with particular emphasis on additional signage at the curve locations where significant speed reductions occur. (Amtrak must identify the locations where it intends to install the additional wayside speed limit signs in its action plan, and must notify FRA when installation of the signs is completed.)

FRA instructed Amtrak that prior to restarting service, the railroad would have to complete the code change at Frankford Junction. Following my direction, Amtrak modified its signal system near the curve before resuming passenger train service through Philadelphia on May 18, 2015.

Amtrak has also provided FRA a list of all curves on the NEC and the applicable speed differentials for those curves, and stated to FRA that they have already begun work to make ATC System modifications at certain higher risk curves that they have identified.

POSITIVE TRAIN CONTROL (PTC)

Positive Train Control technology is the single most important railroad safety technological development in more than a century. The Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (RSIA) mandated that the technology be implemented on certain railroads and routes by December 31, 2015. FRA feels strongly that the deadline of December 31, 2015, is an important mandate for the implementation of PTC and our agency intends to enforce it.

Prior to the May 12th derailment, and since the incident, the FRA has worked diligently to assist railroads with PTC implementation planning and execution. We will continue to do so until every Class 1, intercity passenger, and commuter railroad has implemented PTC successfully. I have established a PTC Implementation Team that is aggressively managing this critical, Congressionally-mandated safety technology that will reduce the risk of human factor caused accidents and save lives.

For more than three years, FRA has been sounding the alarm that most railroads have not made sufficient progress to meet the December 2015 deadline. We have noted that the certification and installation of PTC systems are significant undertakings. FRA even highlighted its concerns about PTC implementation in its August 2012 PTC report to Congress, as well as in the GROW AMERICA Act (3).

FRA has long stated that a lack of public sector funding may cause unwanted delays in fully implementing PTC. FRA has requested funding for PTC development and implementation grants in every budget request dating back to Fiscal Year (FY) 2011. For the past two years, as part of the GROW AMERICA Act, FRA has requested $825 million to assist commuter railroads with the implementation of PTC, as well as additional funding to aid with the implementation of PTC on Amtrak’s national network.

FRA will send a follow up report to the Congress in June, as called for by the House Committee on Appropriations.

Despite a lack of funding directed to commuter railroads, FRA is using the resources it has available now to assist railroads in implementing PTC. For example, FRA issued a $967.1 million loan through the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) program to the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the nation’s largest commuter railroad provider, to facilitate the deployment of the technology.

In recent months, stakeholders and the Congress have asked FRA for guidance on how to approach concerns about railroads not meeting the mandated deadline. To address those concerns, the GROW AMERICA Act the Department submitted to Congress in April 2014 and March 2015 proposed that FRA be granted authority to review, approve, and certify PTC Safety Plans on an individual basis. FRA asked for this authority in order to ensure railroads were raising the bar on safety and have appropriate back stops in place even as they continue to work towards full implementation.

Positive Train Control Technology Description

Positive Train Control refers to an integrated set of advanced technologies, that when fully and properly configured, can prevent certain accidents caused by human factors including (1) train-to-train collisions; (2) over-speed derailments; (3) incursions into established work zones; and (4) the movement of a train through a switch left in the wrong position.

PTC systems use digital radio communications, Global Positioning System (GPS), and fixed wayside signal systems to send and receive a continuous stream of data about the location, direction, and speed of trains. Such systems process this information in real time to aid dispatchers and trains crews in safely and efficiently managing train movements through automatic application of train brakes whenever the crew of a train, for whatever reason, fails to properly operate within the limits of its authority.

All PTC systems consist of four basic subsystems: Office; Wayside; Onboard; and Communications. Two basic PTC systems are being adopted by the majority of railroads in North America reflecting two different technical approaches to achieving the required functional capabilities. PTC systems can be "Vital" or "Non-Vital," and may be "Overlay" or "Standalone" but whichever technology or configuration is used, the system must provide an equivalent or higher level of operating safety than that which it replaces.

PTC systems must also provide for interoperability in a manner that allows for equipped locomotives traversing another railroad’s PTC-equipped territories to communicate with and respond to that other railroad’s PTC system, including uninterrupted movements over property boundaries. With limited exceptions and exclusions, PTC is required to be installed and implemented on Class I railroad main lines--lines with 5 million or more gross tons annually – over which any poisonous or toxic by inhalation hazardous materials are transported. By statute, the technology is also mandated on any railroad’s main line over which regularly scheduled passenger intercity or commuter operations are conducted. It is currently estimated this will equate to approximately 70,000 route miles of track and will involve approximately 20,000 locomotives.

HUMAN FACTOR ISSUES

Simply put, human factors include all the individual and group behaviors and activities that affect railroad system performance. While railroad safety overall has improved, human factors continue to be the leading cause of train accidents, accounting for 38 percent of all train accidents in FY 2014.

Our human factors efforts have focused on: (1) promoting the adoption and enforcement of clear and unambiguous operating rules by railroads; (2) the development and use of effective and consistent training and efficiency testing; (3) fostering strong safety cultures based upon individual and organizational accountability; (4) strengthening fitness for duty requirements; and (5) advancing technological innovations that enhance on the job performance.

During the last several years, FRA has completed several rulemakings, reports, guidance documents, and other actions to address a wide range of human factor issues. All of these are important milestones that guide our ongoing efforts to improve safety in this area:

Rulemakings:

Conductor Certification: Final rule requires a railroad to have a formal program for certifying train conductors and ensure that only those persons who meet minimum Federal safety standards serve as conductors. See 76 Fed. Reg. 69802 (Nov. 9, 2011); 77 Fed. Reg. 6482 (Feb. 8, 2012). Effective Feb. 8, 2012. 49 C.F.R Part 242.

Training, Qualification, and Oversight for Safety-Related Railroad Employees: Final rule establishes minimum training standards for each class or craft of safety-related railroad employees. The rule requires the qualification and documentation of the proficiency of such employees on their knowledge of and ability to comply with Federal railroad safety laws and regulations and the employing railroad company’s rules and procedures implementing those laws and regulations. See 79 Fed. Reg. 66459 (Nov. 7, 2014). Effective Jan. 6, 2015. 49 C.F.R Part 243.

Critical Incident Stress Plans: Final rule mandates that certain railroads (each Class I railroad, intercity passenger railroad, and commuter railroad) have a plan that may help mitigate the long-term negative effects of critical incidents upon railroad employees and the impact of performing safety-sensitive duties in the days following such incidents, when the associated stress may hinder their ability to perform such duties safely. See 79 Fed. Reg. 16218 (Mar. 25, 2014). Effective June 23, 2014. 49 C.F.R Part 272.

Hours of Service of Railroad Employees; Substantive Regulations for Train Employees Providing Commuter and Intercity Rail Passenger Transportation; Conforming Amendments to Recordkeeping Requirements: Final Rule draws on detailed research into the causes of train operator fatigue and analysis of thousands of operator work patterns. FRA also published in the Federal Register three detailed statements of agency policy and interpretation to clarify the hours of service laws as amended by the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008. See Final Rule 76 FR 50360 (Aug. 12, 2011). Effective Oct. 15, 2011. 49 C.F.R Part 228. Interpretations issued: 74 Fed. Reg. 30665 (June 26, 2009); 77 Fed. Reg. 12408 (Feb. 29, 2012); 78 Fed. Reg. 58830 (Sept. 24, 2013).

Restrictions on Railroad Operating Employees’ Use of Cellular Telephones and Other Electronic Devices: Final rule prohibits distracted operation of trains supplemented by an FRA-led industry-wide initiative to combat the dangers of electronic device distraction in the railroad workplace. See 75 Fed. Reg. 59580 (Sept. 27, 2010). Effective Mar. 28, 2011. 49 C.F.R Part 220.

Railroad Workplace Safety; Adjacent-Track On-Track Safety for Roadway Workers: Final rule requires adjacent-track protection for certain roadway work groups. See 79 Fed. Reg. 1743 (Jan. 10, 2014). Effective July 1, 2014. 49 C.F.R Part 214.

The following are additional regulatory actions that are under development:

Control of Alcohol and Drug Use: Coverage of Maintenance of Way Employees, Retrospective Regulatory Review-Based Amendments: Proposed Rule to extend FRA’s alcohol and drug regulations to maintenance of way employees, contractors, and subcontractors. Also, makes other substantive amendments that either respond to National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommendations or update and clarify the alcohol and drug regulations based on a retrospective analysis. See 79 Fed. Reg. 43830 (July 28, 2014). 49 C.F.R Part 219.

Railroad System Safety Programs: FRA published a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) in 2012 that proposed to require commuter and intercity passenger railroads to develop and implement a system safety program (SSP) to improve the safety of their operations. As proposed in the NPRM, an SSP would be a structured program with proactive processes and procedures developed and implemented by commuter and intercity passenger railroads to identify and mitigate or eliminate hazards and the resulting risks on each railroad’s system. A draft final rule is in review in the Department.

Train Crew Staffing: Potential Actions that will seek to address any safety risks posed to railroad employees, the general public, and the environment by one-person train crews.

Inward- and Outward-Facing Recording Devices Mounted in Controlling Locomotive Cabs: FRA is preparing a proposed rulemaking addressing the installation and use of recording devices in locomotive cabs.

Fatigue Management Programs: FRA is considering taking actions to mitigate the risks associated with fatigue-related safety hazards.

In addition to the completed and ongoing regulatory activities cited above, FRA is aggressively advancing proactive safety-based programs that analyze risks, identify hazards, and put in place customized plans to eliminate those risks. These include the Confidential Close Call Reporting System (C3RS) and Clear Signal for Action.

Confidential Close Call Reporting System (C3RS)
C3RS is an FRA-funded voluntary program that improves safety by using proven practices like hazard identification, risk mitigation, and continuous safety improvements. It embodies positive safety culture elements. It is based on learning about potentially unsafe conditions, or close call events, that pose the risk of more serious consequences. There are eight railroads participating in C3RS (1 – intercity passenger, 5 – commuter, 1 – short line, and 1- Class I). The program relies upon third party collection and analysis of anonymized reports of near misses or close calls that could have resulted in an accident or incident but did not. Several railroads are expanding their participation in C3RS to other crafts. In addition to FRA, stakeholders include labor organizations, railroads, and the National Aeronautical and Space Administration. C3RS provides a foundation upon which participants can learn what happened in close call incidents industrywide and use the information to prevent similar or more serious incidents from recurring.

Clear Signal for Action (CSA)
CSA is a behavior-based safety process built on the behavioral research of Dr. Thomas Krause. CSA is an information gathering methodology that uses applied behavioral analysis to achieve continuous improvement in safety performance. CSA uses confidential data gathered by peer observers to measure safety performance. Peer observers gather data to identify and define critical safety-related behaviors and the frequency of these behaviors, and provide peer-to-peer feedback, as well as input into the overall safety improvement process. Overall, CSA is a process that targets at-risk behaviors by first identifying and defining those behaviors, and then provides a structure to support the desired change in behavior.

CONCLUSION

Thank you for the opportunity to testify and answer your questions today. Safety is FRA’s first priority, and we appreciate your attention and focus on issues related to the tragic Amtrak passenger train accident in Philadelphia.

We look forward to working with this Committee to improve our programs and make the American rail network as safe, reliable, and efficient as feasible. I will be happy to respond to your questions.

# # #

1 FRA regulations provide, in part, that it is unlawful to "[o]perate a train or locomotive at a speed which exceeds the maximum authorized limit by at least 10 miles per hour." 49 CFR 240.305(a)(2).

2 EO 31’s requirements will not apply where Amtrak’s Positive Train Control System (Advanced Civil Speed Enforcement System II (ACSES II)) is already in use on the NEC. Among other features, ACSES II enforces civil speed restrictions that are in place at locations such as curves and bridges.

3The Secretary of Transportation submitted the GROW AMERICA Act to Congress on March 30, 2015. "GROW AMERICA" stands for "Generating Renewal, Opportunity, and Work with Accelerated Mobility, Efficiency, and Rebuilding of Infrastructure and Communities throughout America."

Passenger Rail Reauthorization: The Future of the Northeast Corridor

WRITTEN STATEMENT OF

SARAH FEINBERG,
ACTING ADMINISTRATOR,
FEDERAL RAILROAD ADMINISTRATION,

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION

BEFORE THE

SUBCOMMITTEE ON SURFACE TRANSPORTATION AND MERCHANT MARINE INFRASTRUCTURE, SAFETY, AND SECURITY
COMMITTEE ON COMMERCE, SCIENCE, AND TRANSPORTATION
U.S. SENATE

“PASSENGER RAIL REAUTHORIZATioN: THE FUTURE OF the NORTHEAST CORRIDOR”

May 4, 2015

 

Chairman Fischer, Ranking Member Booker, and Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for inviting me to New Jersey to discuss passenger rail, the Northeast Corridor (NEC), and the Administration’s surface transportation reauthorization proposal, GROW AMERICA. [1]  Like this Subcommittee, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) understands the value and importance of the NEC as a national asset.

More than six years ago, this Committee led the development of two pieces of legislation that have helped to redefine the role of intercity passenger rail in the United States and usher in a new era of critical safety reforms – the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA) and the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (RSIA).  Significant progress has been made since implementation of this legislation, and the rail industry has changed dramatically.  However, a significant amount of work remains to further improve the Nation’s rail network, and as the U.S. Department of Transportation’s recent Beyond Traffic report identified, there are numerous transportation challenges facing our Nation, including:

  • Population Growth – America’s population will grow by 70 million by 2045.  The majority of this growth will be concentrated in roughly a dozen megaregions.  The national transportation system must prepare to meet this increased demand.  Increasingly, as evidenced by record ridership numbers, Americans are choosing to travel by passenger rail.  In addition to providing mobility and travel choices for this growing population, we must also identify solutions to accommodate resulting freight demand, which is anticipated to increase 45 percent during this timeframe.
     
  • Infrastructure Deficit – As our population continues to grow, so too does the use of our transportation infrastructure.  The funding necessary to maintain and improve our transportation system has not kept pace with this usage and the burdens placed upon it, which has led to a widening infrastructure deficit as more and more transportation assets fall into a state of disrepair.  The World Economic Forum ranks the United States 16th in overall infrastructure, down from 7th in 1999 and below several western European, Asian, and Middle Eastern countries.
     
  • Congestion and Mobility – Highway and aviation congestion continues to rise, with an estimated economic impact growing from $24 billion in 1982 to $121 billion in 2011 in lost time, productivity, and fuel.  In many places with the worst congestion, expanding airports and highways is difficult, as land is limited and environmental/community impacts are significant.  On average, Americans spend more than 40 hours stuck in traffic each year.
     
  • Environmental Protection – Last month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released its 20th Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks, which found that the U.S. emitted 5.9 percent more greenhouse gases in 2013 than it did in 1990, with emissions increasing 2 percent from 2012 to 2013.  In addition, 27 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are now from the transportation sector.  Increased emissions will amplify the existing health threats the Nation faces, which can have substantial impacts on quality of life and the economy.
     
  • Changing Demographics – As the U.S. population grows, it is also changing.  A large number of Americans are entering their retirement years and are choosing to drive less often, particularly over longer distances. Only 15 percent of Americans older than 65 drive regularly, and that rate declines to just 6 percent for those older than 75.  At the same time, younger generations of Americans are choosing to drive both less often and for fewer miles than previous generations, and are obtaining driver’s licenses at record low rates.  This cohort uses public transportation more frequently than older Americans and has different expectations for the composition of their transportation system.

GROW AMERICA

In order to help meet these challenges, Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx transmitted the GROW AMERICA Act to Congress on March 30, 2015.  GROW AMERICA is a six-year, $478 billion multi-modal reauthorization proposal intended to comprehensively address our surface transportation needs.  The proposal includes an integrated strategy to enhance rail safety, maintain current rail services and infrastructure, and expand and improve the rail network to accommodate growing passenger and freight demand.

National High-Performance Rail Network

GROW AMERICA proposes close to $29 billion over six years to invest in a National High-Performance Rail System, which allocates funds to two new programs aimed at promoting market-based investments to enhance and grow rail:

  • Current Passenger Rail Service Program – Over six years, GROW AMERICA will provide $14.1 billion to maintain the current rail network in a state of good repair and continue existing services.  The proposed Current Passenger Rail Service Program fully funds the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) and for the first time organizes grants for passenger rail services by lines of business:  
     
    • $4.425 billion to bring Northeast Corridor infrastructure and equipment into a state of good repair, thus enabling future growth and service improvements;
    • $645 million to replace obsolete equipment on State-supported corridors and to facilitate efficient transition to financial control for these corridors to States, as required by Section 209 of PRIIA;
    • $4.5 billion to continue operations of the Nation’s important long-distance routes, which provide a vital transportation alternative to both urban and rural communities;
    • $2.43 billion to improve efficiency of the Nation’s “backbone” rail facilities, make payments on Amtrak’s legacy debt, and implement Positive Train Control (PTC) systems on Amtrak routes; and
    • $2.1 billion to bring stations into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
       
  • Rail Service Improvement Program – GROW AMERICA also provides an additional $14.4 billion over six years to expand and improve America’s rail network to accommodate growing travel demand, which includes:
     
    • $9.45 billion to develop high-performance passenger rail networks through construction of new corridors, substantial improvements to existing corridors, and mitigation of passenger train congestion at critical chokepoints;
    • $3.05 billion to assist commuter rail lines in implementing PTC systems;
    • $1.5 billion to help mitigate the negative impacts of rail in local communities through rail line relocation, grade crossing enhancements, investments in short line railroad infrastructure, and training and technical assistance to help local governments better coordinate with railroads regarding operational and safety issues; and
    • $450 million to develop comprehensive plans that will guide future investments in the Nation’s rail system and to develop the workforce and technology necessary for advancing America’s rail industry.  

In addition to establishing these new grant programs, GROW AMERICA proposes a number of improvements to the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) Program.  Specifically, GROW AMERICA proposes to allow FRA to subsidize RRIF loan costs in an effort to make the program more accessible, particularly to resource-constrained short line railroads.  With this change, the RRIF Program would be able to employ Federal subsidies like the Department’s Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act Program, whereas now RRIF relies only on payments from borrowers.

Dedicated and Predictable Funding for Rail

Congress has for decades funded highway infrastructure and safety, transit, and airport programs through multi-year authorizations that provide dedicated funding.  Rail lacks a comparable stream of Federal revenue.  As a result, passenger rail capital investments have generally failed to keep up with the needs of existing equipment fleet and infrastructure, leading to a backlog of state of good repair and other basic infrastructure issues on our rail network across the country. 

For the first time, GROW AMERICA would establish a Rail Account within the Transportation Trust Fund to provide funding certainty for rail.  Predictable, dedicated funding will enable States, local governments, railroads, and other stakeholders to more effectively plan and make large-scale infrastructure investments.  A consistent Federal funding program, leveraged by State and local support, can also better attract private markets to invest in the transformative transportation projects needed to move America forward.  This approach has been affirmed internationally, where major rail systems have been planned and developed through a predictable multi-year funding program.

Freight Rail

America’s freight rail network plays a critical role in supporting the stability and growth of the U.S. economy.  Freight rail is a $70 billion industry that is relied upon by various sectors across the economy.  Outside of the NEC – where track and infrastructure is predominantly owned by Amtrak, the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and the States of Connecticut and Massachusetts – most intercity passenger rail services operate over privately-owned freight railroads.  The GROW AMERICA proposal looks to advance investments and policies that create “win-wins” that benefit and strengthen both passenger and freight rail.  This includes authorizing a comprehensive evaluation of the operational, institutional, and legal structures that would best support high-performance passenger and freight rail services that operate over shared-use infrastructure.  Reassessing these parameters – many of which have been in place for decades – is needed to better accommodate growing demand and address the paradigm shift proposed in GROW AMERICA of providing predictable, dedicated funding for rail.      

GROW AMERICA will also support our freight rail network by providing dedicated capital funds for short line railroads through the new Local Rail Facilities and Safety Program under the Rail Service Improvement Program.  Short line railroads often provide the critical first- and last-mile connections between shippers and the national main line freight rail network.  However, many short line railroads lack the resources to adequately maintain and improve their infrastructure.  FRA believes Federal assistance is required to assist short line railroads and improve the fluidity of our freight rail network.

Continuous Safety Improvements

Through RSIA, Congress mandated that PTC be implemented on certain railroads and routes by December 31, 2015.  FRA believes the implementation of PTC is the single most important safety advancement being implemented by the rail industry today.  Although the railroads are working diligently towards implementation of PTC systems, FRA is concerned that the vast majority of railroads will not be able to meet the deadline. 

In recent months, both Members of Congress and industry representatives have expressed significant interest in an alternative path forward on PTC implementation in light of the fact that most railroads will not be able to comply with the statutory deadline.  In GROW AMERICA, FRA has proposed that it be given the authority to provide limited extensions to permit some latitude in those circumstances where unforeseen events delay a railroad’s ability to fully implement PTC.  FRA has also indicated its willingness to employ enforcement discretion in those situations where railroads have been consistently working towards PTC implementation but will not be able to comply with the current deadline. 

In addition to addressing PTC implementation, GROW AMERICA will improve the predictability of work schedules for railroad operating employees and prevent operator fatigue by granting FRA full rulemaking authority to replace outdated hours-of-service laws with scientifically-based regulations.  GROW AMERICA also promotes uniform operating rules for the industry by requiring harmonization of railroads’ operating rules in small geographic areas where two or more railroads host joint operations.  This provision could improve safety by assisting railroad employees to better understand and comply with another host railroad’s operating rules, as well as reduce railroads’ rule training and development cost.   

Transparency, Accountability, and Effective Planning

Achieving the priorities contained in GROW AMERICA can only occur if these programs and initiatives are effectively managed and deliver public benefits and service improvements through a process that is transparent to the American people.  The roles and responsibilities of the Federal government, States, Amtrak, freight railroads, and other stakeholders must be clear and based on sound public policy.  One of the principles of the grant programs contained in GROW AMERICA is to organize funding for current passenger rail services by business lines and invest Amtrak’s NEC operating surpluses back into the corridor to address NEC infrastructure needs.  This structure will improve transparency and accountability for taxpayer investments by aligning costs, revenues, and Federal grants to business lines to better ensure that our investments are advancing the Nation’s goals and objectives for rail services.

Similarly, infrastructure investments are most often delivered on time, within budget, and achieve their full intended scope when they are the result of a rigorous planning process.  GROW AMERICA will require Amtrak to engage in annual five-year operating and capital planning to focus on the long-term needs of its business lines.  Additional capital asset plans will describe investment priorities and implementation strategies and identify specific projects to address the backlog of state of good repair needs, recapitalization/ongoing maintenance needs, upgrades to support service enhancements, and business initiatives with a defined return on investment.  GROW AMERICA also emphasizes developing rail plans in the context of a broader regional framework that can help to better integrate rail projects with other transportation modes, promote greater involvement by stakeholders, identify priorities for limited Federal funding, and yield more cost-effective investments.  Establishing a framework for improved regional rail planning is a key component of the GROW AMERICA proposal.

The Northeast Corridor

There is no better place to emphasize the need for a multi-year reauthorization for rail and what the Administration is trying to accomplish with GROW AMERICA than right here in Newark.  The NEC is one of the most important transportation assets in the United States.  The lifeblood to the regional economy, the NEC carries more than 750,000 people each day on Amtrak and commuter services, with Amtrak setting a new NEC ridership record in fiscal year (FY) 2014 with 11.6 million passengers.  The residents and commuters that utilize the NEC to travel to and from work each day contribute more than $50 billion to the national economy each year.  The NEC is also one of the most complex transportation assets in the country, running through 8 States and Washington, D.C. and hosting more than 2,000 daily trains on 8 commuter railroads, 4 freight railroads, and Amtrak.

Despite the important role that the NEC plays in the lives of millions of Americans and our economy, many segments of the corridor operate at or near capacity and are in need of major repairs.  The NEC requires nearly $1.5 billion per year over 15 years just to bring the corridor into a state of good repair and maintain it in that condition.  The average age of the NEC’s major bridges and tunnels is approximately 110 years old.  These assets have remained in service well beyond their expected useful life and today require extensive maintenance and are major sources of corridor delays.

NEC Commission

Congress recognized the opportunities, constraints and challenges facing the NEC in the passage of PRIIA by establishing the Northeast Corridor Infrastructure and Operations Advisory Commission (NEC Commission).  Composed of members from each of the NEC States, Amtrak, and the U.S. DOT – as well as other non-voting stakeholders – the NEC Commission was charged by Congress with developing a cost allocation formula for determining and allocating costs, revenues, and compensation for users of the NEC.

The NEC Commission has been successful in promoting mutual cooperation among a myriad of stakeholders and public officials with differing political persuasions, each having to balance parochial interests with the greater good of the corridor.  In December 2014, the NEC Commission members voted to approve a cost allocation policy.  Set to take effect in FY 2016, the policy establishes the methodology for allocating the approximately $500 million in operating costs and $425 million in capital costs that are shared among NEC commuter rail operators and Amtrak.  The capital contributions represent the annual funding needed to maintain assets in a state of good repair, if not for the backlog of deferred investment needs.  The policy also provides recommendations for addressing the backlog of state of good repair needs and improving collaboration and project delivery along the corridor.

Building on the cost allocation policy, in April 2015 the NEC Commission released the first joint five-year capital plan for investing in the corridor.  The plan integrates the priorities of the four infrastructure owners, nine operators, and government agencies along the corridor; identifying both funded and unfunded components (should additional capital dollars be made available).  The plan proposes that the Federal government assume the responsibility for funding the elimination of the state of good repair backlog on the NEC, which is consistent with the Administration’s Current Passenger Rail Services Program under GROW AMERICA.     

NEC FUTURE and Capital Investments

In addition to establishing the NEC Commission, PRIIA created new discretionary grant programs for rail development and subsequently appropriated more than $10 billion for the High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail (HSIPR) Program.  FRA utilized a portion of these funds to initiate the NEC FUTURE program, a comprehensive planning effort to define, evaluate, and prioritize future passenger rail investments along the NEC.  This FRA-led study will produce the necessary environmental and service planning documents for establishing the corridor’s future vision and enabling further public investment.  NEC FUTURE is expected to be completed in 2016 and will have a lasting legacy in guiding the corridor’s development.

Through the HSIPR Program, FRA has invested nearly $1 billion in additional capital and planning funds on the NEC mainline between Washington, D.C. – New York City – Boston, including:

  • Amtrak – $450 million:  to increase capacity, reliability, and speed along one of the NEC’s most heavily used segments (New Brunswick to Trenton, NJ).
     
  • New York – $295 million:  to reduce congestion and improve on-time performance by allowing Amtrak trains to bypass Harold Interlocking in Queens, NY.
     
  • Maryland – $60 million:  to complete preliminary engineering and environmental work to replace the nearly 150-year-old Baltimore and Potomac tunnel.
     
  • New Jersey – $38.5 million:  to complete final design to replace the 100-year-old Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River.
     
  • New York – $30 million:  to complete the first phase of construction for the new Moynihan Station, which will increase capacity and relieve congestion at Penn Station.
     
  • Maryland – $22 million:  to complete preliminary engineering and environmental work to replace the century-old Susquehanna River Bridge, a source of frequent delays caused by emergency maintenance requirements.

With the HSIPR Program funding authorized and appropriated by Congress, FRA has also funded nearly $450 million in projects located on the branch lines that provide critical connections between the NEC and the national rail network, including:

  • Philadelphia to Harrisburg – $66 million:  to eliminate grade crossings and upgrade signaling systems to improve safety and service reliability.
     
  • New York to Albany – $68 million:  to double track the route, improve grade crossings, and complete engineering and environmental analysis to reduce congestion and improve safety.
     
  • New Haven to Springfield – $191 million:  to upgrade track and install signaling systems in Connecticut to increase speeds and reduce trip times.
     
  • D.C. to Richmond – $122 million:  to complete track construction and planning and environmental studies to upgrade passenger rail service that connects the Northeast Corridor to Southeast High-Speed Rail to Charlotte, NC.

Having made these initial investments with HSIPR funding appropriated by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and the FY 2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act, the GROW AMERICA Act is ready to move forward with additional critical NEC projects as soon as Congress approves new funding.

Hurricane Sandy

In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy caused extensive damage along the entire eastern seaboard.  Amtrak suffered damage to much of its NEC transportation infrastructure, particularly the infrastructure in and around New York City and northern New Jersey.  Specifically, Hurricane Sandy caused significant flooding in and associated damage to Amtrak’s existing Hudson River tunnels, resulting in the cessation of all Amtrak NEC intercity passenger rail and New Jersey Transit service into New York City for approximately five days, affecting nearly 600,000 daily riders and causing substantial economic harm.

Hurricane Sandy served as a stark reminder of the importance of the NEC to the region and the need for resiliency for our vital transportation assets.  The NEC Commission estimates that the loss of the NEC for a single day costs the U.S. $100 million in travel delays and lost productivity.

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Congress enacted the FY 2013 Disaster Assistance Supplemental Appropriations Bill (P.L. 113-2), which provided a wide range of assistance for those affected by the storm and flooding.  Amtrak received approximately $30 million for repairs and $235 million to fund the first two phases of the Hudson Yards Encasement Project, the first step in creating new Trans-Hudson River rail tunnels to increase capacity and provide redundancy into the New York Penn Station/Moynihan complex.  Once the new tunnels are constructed, the existing century-old tunnels could be closed off in order to retrofit them with flood prevention measures and to perform other necessary upgrades and repairs, while still maintaining direct access to Penn Station.

Conclusion

Thank you again for inviting me to testify on this very important topic.  FRA is proud of its accomplishments in implementing PRIIA and RSIA, particularly in light of the laws’ sweeping provisions and the FRA’s concurrent need to implement and administer the more than $10 billion in HSIPR Program funding appropriated by Congress in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and the FY 2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act.  The Administration is encouraged and expresses its gratitude that this committee is once again stepping to the forefront to develop a new rail reauthorization proposal that will help improve and grow our rail network to meet the 21st century transportation challenges facing the United States.

American passengers and shippers are continuing to choose rail more than ever before.  Over the last decade, Amtrak ridership increased 29 percent, from 24 million passengers in FY 2005 to 30.9 million passengers in FY 2014.  On the freight rail side, U.S. rail intermodal freight volumes set a new record in 2014 with nearly 13.5 million containers and trailers, up 5.2 percent over the previous record achieved in 2013.  Rail safety – FRA’s top priority – has also improved dramatically in the last decade, as evidenced by total train accidents declining by 46 percent, total derailments declining by 47 percent, and total highway-rail grade crossing accidents declining by 24 percent.

FRA, States, Amtrak, commuter railroads, other industry stakeholders, and the American people are ready to take the next step.  Many of the nearly 150 projects initiated under the HSIPR Program are complete or nearing completion.  The HSIPR Program and independent State and regional efforts have created a strong pipeline of planning, environmental, and engineering projects that are now ready for construction.  This includes the critical Portal Bridge project just a few miles from where we are meeting today.  Failure to act on these shovel-ready projects in a timely manner often results in increased costs as environmental analyses and engineering designs have to be reevaluated after periods of dormancy.

FRA strongly supports the proposals contained in GROW AMERICA, and I look forward to continuing to work with Congress to enact a comprehensive surface transportation bill that provides robust and dedicated funding to strengthen rail transportation.      

 

[1] The Secretary of Transportation submitted the GROW AMERICA Act to Congress on March 30, 2015.  “GROW AMERICA” stands for “Generating Renewal, Opportunity, and Work with Accelerated Mobility, Efficiency, and Rebuilding of Infrastructure and Communities throughout America.”

Oversight of the Ongoing Rail, Pipeline, and Hazardous Materials Rulemakings

WRITTEN STATEMENT OF

SARAH FEINBERG,
ACTING ADMINISTRATOR,
FEDERAL RAILROAD ADMINISTRATION,
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION

BEFORE THE

SUBCOMMITTEE ON RAILROADS, PIPELINES, AND HAZARDOUS MATERIALS
COMMITTEE ON TRANSPORTATION AND INFRASTRUCTURE,
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

“OVERSIGHT OF THE ONGOING RAIL, PIPELINE, AND HAZARDOUS MATERIALS RULEMAKINGS”

April 14, 2015

 

Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member, and Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss the safety of our Nation’s railroads.  Historically, rail has been a safe and reliable mode of transportation, and one that American passengers and shippers are choosing more than ever before.  

  • Over the last decade, Amtrak ridership increased 29 percent, from 24 million passengers in Fiscal Year (FY) 2005 to 30.9 million passengers in FY 2014;
  • In FY 2014, Amtrak set a new ridership record on the Northeast Corridor with 11.6 million passengers, while eight other Amtrak routes also set new ridership records; and
  • In 2014, U.S. rail intermodal freight volumes set a new record with nearly 13.5 million containers and trailers, up 5.2 percent over the previous record achieved in 2013.

The Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) mission is to enable the safe, reliable, and efficient movement of people and goods for a strong America, now and in the future.  We are a data-driven agency.  We closely monitor data and trends to identify, reduce, and eliminate risks.

Today, I will present an overview of the railroad industry’s safety performance over the last decade, and I will present an overview of the status of outstanding regulatory actions FRA is currently completing.  Finally, I will discuss the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT or Department) actions in response to recent accidents and how we are addressing the safety challenges ahead, including through the GROW AMERICA Act.[1] 

The Railroad Industry’s Safety Record

FRA’s top priority is safety.  In the ten years from FY 2005 through FY 2014 (the latest year for which complete data is available)--

  • Total train accidents declined by 46 percent.
  • Total derailments declined by 47 percent.
  • Total highway-rail grade crossing (grade crossing) accidents declined by 24 percent.

These safety improvements have resulted in 14-percent fewer fatalities overall (906 fatalities to 773 fatalities–94 percent of which are trespassing or grade crossing related), 52-percent fewer employee fatalities, and 6.5-percent fewer injuries (9,386 injuries to 8,774 injuries) over 10 years.

The chart and table below illustrate a decade of safety improvement.

Ten-year Downward Trend for Number of Train Accidents (FY 2005-FY2014)
*Fiscal Year Representing Absolute Numbers

Ten-year Trends for Railroad Accident/Incident Rates, by Accident/Incident Cause
*Accident/Incident, Train Accident, and Grade Crossing Incident Numbers Are Normalized by Million Train-Miles for Fiscal Year.

Non-Accident Hazmat Releases Are Normalized by 200 Million Hazmat Ton-Miles for Fiscal Year.

Ten-year Trends for Railroad Accident/Incident Rates, by Accident/Incident Cause

 

FY 2005

FY 2006

FY 2007

FY 2008

FY 2009

FY 2010

FY 2011

FY 2012

FY 2013

FY 2014

Total Accidents/
Incidents

18.093

17.525

17.298

16.908

16.873

16.7

16.098

15.255

15.161

15.785

Human-Factor-Caused Train Accidents

1.648

1.38

1.297

1.23

1.039

0.949

0.996

0.922

0.915

0.901

Track-Caused
Train Accidents

1.398

1.318

1.258

1.094

1.039

0.978

0.958

0.851

0.756

0.675

Equipment-Caused Train Accidents

0.499

0.433

0.418

0.436

0.368

0.37

0.342

0.291

0.28

0.32

Total Signal/Misc.-Caused Train Accidents

0.707

0.641

0.506

0.496

0.48

0.488

0.466

0.428

0.437

0.473

Grade Crossing  Incidents

3.8

3.797

3.523

3.24

2.986

2.902

2.883

2.791

2.7

2.975

Non-Accident  Hazmat Releases

1.406

1.154

1.226

1.234

1.163

1.098

1.082

0.755

0.789

0.821

A decade of steady improvement in safety outcomes, along with significant reductions in the rates of all types of accidents since FY 2008, is strong evidence that FRA’s approach to oversight and enforcement is effective.  Despite this good news, there are still many risks to mitigate, and we have a long way to go to reach zero accidents, injuries, and fatalities.   

An Overview of Outstanding Regulatory Actions

The Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (RSIA) mandated that FRA, as the Secretary’s designee, complete an unprecedented 43 discrete tasks, including the publication of final rules, guidance documents, model State laws, studies, and reports, as well as three types of annual reports and hundreds of periodic accident reporting audits. 

Today, FRA has 10 remaining RSIA-mandated, non-periodic items left to complete.  The majority of these are final rules that we are currently working with the Office of the Secretary of Transportation and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) on completing.  Appendix 1 lists the RSIA-mandated rulemakings, non-periodic reports and studies, guidance, and model State laws that FRA has completed as of April 1, 2015. 

Currently, FRA has identified five significant rulemakings as priority rulemakings for the agency, including three that are at the final rule stage.  These rulemakings include: 

  • A Final Rule on Railroad System Safety Programs. This RSIA rulemaking would improve the safety of passenger railroad operations through structured, proactive processes and procedures developed by intercity passenger and commuter railroads.  It would require each of these passenger railroads to establish and implement a customized, risk reduction program, called a System Safety Program, supported by certain FRA-approved plans that would systematically identify, evaluate, and mitigate risks on its railroad in order to reduce the number and rates of railroad accidents, incidents, injuries and fatalities.  A draft final rule is in review in the Department.
     
  • A Final Rule on Risk Reduction Programs.  This RSIA rulemaking is the freight-railroad counterpart of the System Safety rulemaking.  This rulemaking would require each major (i.e., Class I) freight railroad to establish and implement a customized Risk Reduction Program, also supported by certain FRA-approved plans.  The notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) in this proceeding was published February 27, 2015, and public comments are due by April 28, 2015.  Following the close of the comment period, FRA will prepare a final rule.
     
  • A Final Rule on Securement of Unattended Equipment.  This rulemaking would amend the brake system safety standards for freight and other non-passenger trains and equipment to ensure better compliance with the requirements relating to the securement of unattended equipment.  Specifically, the NPRM in this rulemaking, published in September 2014, would codify some of the requirements already included in FRA’s Emergency Order Establishing Additional Requirements for Attendance and Securement of Certain Freight Trains and Vehicles on Mainline Track or Mainline Siding Outside of a Yard or Terminal.  78 FR 48218 (Aug. 7, 2013).  Amendments to FRA’s existing regulations would include additional securement requirements for unattended equipment, primarily for those that include cars containing certain hazardous materials, and additional communication requirements relating to job briefings and securement verification.
     
  • An NPRM on Train Crew Staffing.  This rulemaking would propose train crew staffing requirements to address the safety risks posed to railroad employees, the general public, and the environment.  
     
  • An NPRM on Passenger Equipment Safety Standards. This rulemaking would propose amendments to 49 C.F.R. Part 238 to update existing safety standards for passenger rail equipment.  Specifically, the proposed rulemaking would add standards for alternative compliance with requirements for Tier I passenger equipment, increase the maximum authorized speed for Tier II passenger equipment, and add requirements for a new Tier III category of passenger equipment needed to support the procurement of high speed train sets.

Additionally, FRA is committing significant resources to assist the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) with the development of its final rule on high-hazard flammable trains.   

Further, there are additional regulatory actions under development at FRA.  These include the following:

  • A final rule on Miscellaneous Amendments to Roadway Worker Protections;
  • An RSIA final rule extending the alcohol and drug regulations to maintenance of way (MOW) employees and contractors;
  • A final rule on Passenger Train Door safety;
  • A final rule on rail equipment safety glazing;
  • An RSIA NPRM on Fatigue Management Programs;
  • An NPRM on Engineer Qualification Revisions;
  • An NPRM on Hours of Service Recordkeeping Amendments; and
  • An NPRM on Accident Reporting Threshold Calculation.  

Response to Accidents

Last year we conducted 71,380 compliance inspections and 100 accident investigations.  The information learned as a result of these activities, along with other key data and research, plays an important role in our ability to identify future risks and how to mitigate those risks or eliminate them entirely.  The data also inform our approach to necessary enforcement actions. 

In recent months, the safe shipment of crude oil, passenger safety, and highway-rail grade crossing safety have attracted widespread attention after several high-profile incidents.  Additionally, the installation and implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC) remains at the forefront of advancing safety.  The following section reviews initiatives FRA has taken to address safety challenges in these areas. 

SAFE TRANSPORTATION OF ENERGY PRODUCTS

Transportation of crude oil by rail has increased significantly.  Between 2009 and 2013 (the last year for which data is available), the rail shipment of crude oil has increased by 4,000 percent.  Much of this traffic is driven by new production from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota. 

This is a nationwide transportation safety concern as crude oil and other energy products are shipped from production areas to refineries on the East, West, and Gulf Coasts. The consequences of an accident involving containers of crude oil can be catastrophic, as demonstrated by the accident in Lac-Mégantic, Québec, which killed 47 people.

Since the Lac-Mégantic derailment on July 6, 2013, there have been 22 subsequent train accidents in the United States involving trains carrying crude oil.  In response to these increased hazards, the Department is pursuing a holistic, all-of-the-above approach to ensure the safe movement of energy products in America.  We believe this comprehensive approach must include enhancing the integrity of the tank car itself, strengthening the safety requirements of railroad operations, and taking whatever steps are possible to improve the safety of the product itself.   

PHMSA and FRA have undertaken more than two dozen actions to enhance the safe transport of crude oil since December 2012, including issuing emergency orders, safety advisories, safety alerts, hosting public hearings, putting shippers and carriers on notice, as well as providing training for emergency first responders.

To address this growing challenge, FRA has requested 45 new staff positions dedicated to the Safe Transportation of Energy Products (STEP) in its FY 2016 Budget.  This includes creation of five new Crude Oil Route Manager positions to focus on the Nation’s main energy corridors.  For the field, FRA requests 40 dedicated safety inspectors and rail safety specialists to oversee railroads’ crude oil safety performance and to ensure that next generation tank cars are built to applicable standards.  In addition, FRA seeks additional funds to expand the coverage of its Automated Track Inspection Program (ATIP) on routes with heavy traffic of energy products and to fully implement the Crude Oil Route Track Examination (CORTEX) program, which involves increased track inspections focused specifically on crude oil routes. 

Oversight and enforcement are important strategies for making crude oil transportation by rail safer, and so are improving infrastructure and investing in capital.  Short lines and local governments in particular require assistance making such investments.  FRA’s proposed $250 million Local Rail Facilities and Safety grant program, part of the Rail Service Improvement Program, would fund safety projects, including those involving crude oil and energy products. 

For example, the Short Line Safety Institute (Institute) provides safety culture assessments, training and education, and recommendations to improve the safety culture on short line railroads involved in the movement of crude oil.  In FY 2014, FRA’s Office of Research and Development obligated $500,000 to support the development and pilot-testing of the Institute’s safety culture assessments.  In FY 2015, Congress appropriated $2 million to “improve safety practices and safety training for Class II and Class III freight railroads.”   FRA plans to add another $300,000 in available appropriations to this effort, for a total budget of $2.3 million.  This includes a $1.8 million grant to the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA) to perform safety assessments and training on short lines that transport crude oil.  Additionally, $100,000 will be awarded to the University of Connecticut to test and validate the safety culture assessment tools and support emerging needs as the pilot phase progresses.  FRA will provide $400,000 to the Department’s Volpe Center to provide a short line safety needs assessment and to evaluate the implementation and impact of the pilot safety assessments.  Volpe will also support ASLRRA in the development of the Institute’s long-term training and education needs. 

PASSENGER RAILROAD SAFETY

The number of intercity passenger rail services and commuter trips is rapidly increasing.  Today, there are more than 500 million railroad passenger trips annually. Protecting the safety and minimizing risks for these passengers as well as railroad crews is a top priority of FRA. 

In the aftermath of four high-profile accidents on the Metro-North Railroad in 2013, FRA took unprecedented action by conducting a thorough, in-depth review of the railroad’s safety culture.  That review highlighted risks that are now managed and mitigated to ensure that policies, processes, and oversight are in place to reduce the risk of accidents in the future. 

For FY 2016, FRA has requested 15 new staff positions to develop and implement risk reduction and system safety programs and provide direct oversight and technical assistance to commuter, shared use, and passenger operations.  These new positions will enable FRA to conduct recurring evaluations of the safety culture of passenger rail providers across the Nation.

Oversight and enforcement are important strategies to ensure passenger rail safety.  In addition, PTC will improve the safety of rail operations by significantly reducing the primary cause of train accidents–human error.  Having heard repeatedly from commuter railroads of the financial challenges they face, a key component of FRA’s FY 2016 budget includes $825 million to assist commuter railroads in achieving full compliance with the statutory mandate to implement PTC. The budget also provides funding to assist with the implementation of PTC on Amtrak routes.

GRADE CROSSING SAFETY AND TRESPASS PREVENTION

For more than a decade, the number of grade crossing collisions has been decreasing.  However, that trend has begun to reverse.  In FY 2014, the number of grade crossing incidents increased by nearly 13 percent over FY 2013 levels, and the number of fatalities at grade crossings increased by 6 percent.  Overall, in FY 2014, grade crossing and trespassing fatalities accounted for 94 percent of all rail-related deaths.  

In the wake of recent incidents near or at grade crossings in California, New York, and North Carolina, FRA launched a multi-faceted campaign to enhance grade crossing safety.  The first initiative of the campaign was geared towards law enforcement agencies, requesting that they increase their presence at grade crossings, issue more citations to drivers that violate traffic laws at crossings, and consider the rapid implementation of best practices for grade crossing safety.   The initial phase of the campaign has been successful, with a number of law enforcement jurisdictions increasing their presence at grade crossings and writing substantially more citations to drivers at crossings.  In New York, for example, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Police Department issued six times as many citations during the first quarter of 2015 as they did for the same period last year.  Most citations are being issued to drivers who drive around warning gates, stop on the tracks, or drive while distracted at grade crossings.

Subsequent phases of the campaign will include increasing public awareness, employing greater use of technology, improved signage, stronger partnerships with States and safety organizations, as well as exploring how additional funding for grade crossing safety can be effectively utilized to improve safety outcomes.  

Similarly, trespass deaths followed the same pattern as grade crossing collisions between FY 2009 and FY 2014.  There was an average of 420 fatalities per year between FY 2009 and FY 2013.  The actual number of trespasser fatalities (473) increased in FY 2014 by 7.7 percent over the previous fiscal year.   Trespassing is a leading cause of rail-related deaths and accounted for 61 percent of all rail-related fatalities in FY 2014.

In the FY 2016 budget, FRA requests 16 grade crossing safety manager and 8 trespass prevention manager positions.  These employees would conduct nationwide safety outreach with the trucking industry, communities, local planners, schools, and others to improve the safety of the nearly 130,000 public grade crossings.  FRA also seeks funds to bring together trespass prevention experts from freight, commuter, and transit railroads to share and develop new prevention initiatives.  Moreover, FRA requests new funds to implement a pilot program to provide targeted and sustained community outreach.

Additionally, the proposed $250 million Local Rail Facilities and Safety grant program will enable local communities to build grade crossing improvements and relocate rail lines from residential neighborhoods or other highly trafficked areas, among other critical improvements.

IMPLEMENTATION OF PTC

The implementation of PTC is the single most important safety advancement facing the rail industry today.  RSIA mandated the technology to be implemented on certain railroads and routes by December 31, 2015. 

With limited exceptions and exclusions, PTC is required to be installed and implemented on Class I railroad main lines -- lines with 5 million or more gross tons annually – over which any poisonous or toxic by inhalation (PIH/TIH) hazardous materials are transported.  By statute, the technology is also mandated on any railroad’s main line over which regularly scheduled passenger intercity or commuter operations are conducted.  It is currently estimated this will equate to approximately 70,000 miles of track and will involve approximately 20,000 locomotives.   

PTC technology is capable of automatically controlling train speeds and movements should a train operator fail to take appropriate action for the conditions at hand.  For example, PTC can force a train to a stop before it passes a signal displaying a “stop” indication, or before diverging on a switch improperly lined, thereby averting a potential collision.  PTC systems required to comply must reliably and functionally prevent: 

  • Train-to-train collisions;
  • Over-speed derailments;
  • Incursion into an established work zone; and
  • Movement through a main line switch in the improper position.

PTC systems must also provide for interoperability in a manner that allows for equipped locomotives traversing other railroad’s PTC-equipped territories to communicate with and respond to that railroad’s PTC system, including uninterrupted movements over property boundaries.

Although the railroads subject to the mandate are working diligently towards implementation of PTC systems, FRA is concerned that the vast majority of these railroads will not be able to meet the deadline.  FRA’s August 2012 Report to Congress “Positive Train Control:  Implementation Status, Issues, and Impacts” summarized the major technical and programmatic challenges and obstacles associated with PTC implementation that FRA had identified so far.  Subsequent to the report’s submission, a new issue regarding historic preservation reviews of communications towers required for PTC deployment arose under the jurisdiction of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).  Since then, the FCC has taken steps to address the issues by engaging stakeholders, including FRA, to develop a process to expedite the required historic preservation reviews

Further, commuter rail operations are cash-strapped and unable to attain certain necessities for implementation, such as communications spectrum.

In recent months, significant interest in a path forward to implementing PTC in the face of a statutory deadline that most railroads will not be able to comply with has emerged among both members of Congress and industry representatives.  FRA has proposed that it be granted provisional authority to review, approve, and certify PTC Safety Plans on an individual basis, even though the mandated deadline might be exceeded.  FRA has also indicated its willingness to employ enforcement discretion in those situations where railroads have been consistently working towards PTC implementation but will not be able to comply with the current deadline.  Moreover, FRA has proposed that it be provided the authority to provide limited extensions to any deadline imposed by Congress in order to permit some latitude in those circumstances where unforeseen events delay a railroad’s ability to fully implement PTC.   

In the FY 2015 appropriations law, Congress directed FRA to compile and complete a second report to Congress on PTC implementation.  That report is due in June 2015; however, FRA is working to complete the report and transmit it to Congress sooner.  The report will include a number of additional recommendations and will address issues surrounding the current statutory deadline for PTC implementation.    

How FRA Is Addressing Safety Challenges Ahead

Continuous safety improvement requires a comprehensive strategy designed to eliminate risk. Here is FRA’s strategy:

  1. Continuing a rigorous regulatory and inspection program based on strategic use of data;
  2. Advancing proactive approaches for early identification and reduction of risk; as well as
  3. Capital investments and robust research and development (R&D).

Continuing a Rigorous Regulatory and Inspection program

We will continue this framework for safety oversight and enforcement and improve it.  Data-driven analysis will continue to guide workforce planning and inspection activities.

FRA’s regulatory program improves safety by developing rules based on facts, incident and accident causation analysis, comparison of alternative mitigation measures, and cost-beneficial solutions.  FRA rulemaking considers current and future industry capabilities, compliance burden and cost, and other economic and social realities.  Within this context, FRA will continue to attempt to meet statutory milestones with its available resources.

State rail inspectors are a force multiplier for FRA’s compliance and enforcement efforts.  The State Rail Safety Participation Program consists of 30 States employing 186 safety inspectors in the 5 rail safety inspection disciplines:  motive power and equipment; operating practices; track; signal and train control; and hazardous materials.  States serve as FRA’s safety partners.  State programs conduct routine compliance inspections; and may undertake additional investigative and surveillance activities consistent with overall program needs and individual State authorities and capabilities.  FRA provides on-the-job training to State inspectors.  We invite additional State participation in this important program and view it as an opportunity to improve oversight in key States and regions.

Focus Areas

Safety overall has improved; however, accidents related to human error and track defects account for more than two-thirds of all train accidents, and for decades trespassing and grade crossing incidents have accounted for more than 90 percent of all rail-related fatalities.  We will allocate resources and work with partners, such as Operation Lifesaver, to make improvements in these challenging areas.  Over the last several years, FRA completed the following rulemakings, reports, guidance documents, and other actions, which are important milestones to guide our work in these areas:

Human Factors

  • Final rule to advance nationwide implementation of PTC systems by defining statutory terms and the essential functionalities of PTC systems.  FRA also issued two other rules designed to reduce some of the costs of PTC implementation. PTC systems are a technology that promotes safety improvement through the reduction of certain human-factor-related incidents and will complement FRA’s other safety efforts, such as implementation of safety Risk Reduction Programs (RRP) and crash energy management as applied to rail equipment.  On August 22, 2014, FRA published a final rule regarding exceptions to the current regulatory requirements to install and implement PTC systems.  The final rule responds to a petition for rulemaking submitted by the Association of American Railroads (AAR).  The final rule reduces the number of miles of track and the number of locomotives on which a PTC system must be installed and implemented.  Publication of the final rule facilitated settlement of AAR’s suit challenging the then-current PTC regulations.
  • Final rule requiring a railroad to have a formal program for certifying train conductors.  This raised the bar of professionalism and ensures that only those persons who meet minimum Federal safety standards serve as conductors.
  • Final rule that establishes minimum training standards for each class or craft of safety-related railroad employees.  The rule requires the qualification and documentation of the proficiency of such employees on their knowledge and ability to comply with Federal railroad safety laws and regulations and the employing railroad company’s rules and procedures implementing those laws and regulations.  FRA is presently reviewing a petition for reconsideration of this final rule.
  • Final rule that enhances safety by mandating that certain railroads (each Class I railroad, intercity passenger railroad, and commuter railroad) have a Critical Incident Stress Plan that may help mitigate the long-term negative effects of critical incidents upon railroad employees and the impact of performing safety-sensitive duties in the days following such incidents when the associated stress may hinder their ability to perform such duties safely.
  • Final rule on the hours of service of passenger train employees.  This rule draws on detailed research into the causes of train operator fatigue and analysis of thousands of operator work patterns.  FRA also published in the FederalRegister three detailed statements of agency policy and interpretation to clarify the hours of service laws as amended by RSIA.
  • FRA-led industry-wide initiative to combat the dangers of electronic device distraction in the railroad workplace as well as an emergency order and then a final rule prohibiting distracted operation of trains.
  • Proposed rule to extend FRA’s alcohol and drug regulations to MOW employees, contractors, and subcontractors.  Also, makes other substantive amendments that either respond to National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommendations or update and clarify the alcohol and drug regulations based on a retrospective analysis.

Track Safety

  • Final rule to improve rail inspections.  Requires the use of performance-based rail inspection methods that focus on maintaining low rail failure rates per mile of track and generally results in more frequent testing for internal rail flaws that are invisible to the naked eye; provides a four-hour period to verify that certain less serious suspected defects exist in a rail section once track owners learn that the rail contains an indication of those defects; requires that rail inspectors are properly qualified to operate rail flaw detection equipment and interpret test results; and establishes an annual maximum allowable rate of rail defects and rail failures between inspections for each designated inspection segment of track.  These changes are intended to reduce the risk of derailments caused by rail failures by improving the accuracy of rail inspections and shortening the time that latent, undetected rail flaws remain in track.
  • Vehicle/track interaction safety standards.  The final rule was based on research into vehicle/track interaction, and it promotes the safe interaction of rail vehicles with the track over which they operate under a variety of conditions at speeds up to 220 mph.  The rule also adds flexibility for safely permitting high cant deficiency train operations[2] through curves at more conventional speeds so that both freight and passenger trains may better sustain maximum allowable speeds through curved track.
  • New technology to improve track safety.  Through our R&D program we are developing new technology for avoiding track buckles (sun-kinks).  The device measures the neutral temperature of rail and warns the railroad when track maintenance is required to avoid track buckling.  We are also developing technology to predict rail temperature variations.  This provides railroads information needed to decide the extent and duration of slow orders to reduce safety risk on hot days.

Grade Crossing Safety and Trespass Prevention

  • Standards requiring railroads to establish and maintain toll-free “1-800” emergency notification systems by which the public can telephone the proper railroad about a stalled vehicle or other safety problem at a specifically-identified grade crossing. 
  • Regulations requiring 10 States to issue State-specific action plans to improve safety at grade crossings. 
  • Model State laws on highway users’ sight distance at passively signed crossings and on highway motorists’ violations of grade crossing warning devices. 
  • A final rule specifying the types of information that railroads have to report to the Department’s National Crossing Inventory and periodically update. 
  • A five-year strategy to improve grade crossing safety, including an audit every two years of Class I railroads’ grade crossing accident reports to ensure that these railroads are accurately reporting these incidents.  Resources permitting, FRA will conduct such audits every five years on other railroads. 
  • Guidance addressing pedestrian safety at or near passenger rail stations.
  • An FRA-released smartphone application with grade crossing information.

Advancing Proactive Approaches to Reduce Risk

Continuous safety improvement requires a multi-faceted approach.  The next level of safety will come from advancing proactive safety-based programs that analyze risks, identify hazards, and put in place customized plans to eliminate those risks. 

  • Risk Reduction Programs (RRP) and System Safety Programs (SSP) that help identify accident precursors so that corrective action can be taken in advance.  As previously mentioned, a final rule to require passenger railroads to develop and implement SSPs is currently in review in the Department, and an NPRM that would require freight railroads to establish RRPs was published on February 27, 2015.  Both are designed to require railroads to develop and implement systematic risk-based approaches to ensuring continuous safety improvement.
  • Confidential Close Call Reporting System (C3RS), a voluntary and non-punitive program for railroads and their employees to report close calls.  Results from one C3RS pilot site indicate nearly a 70-percent reduction in certain accidents.  C3RS helps develop a positive and proactive safety culture, using detailed data far beyond what is obtained during accident investigations.  The magnitude of the information provided from proactive programs like C3RS in comparison to traditional data from accidents and injuries is illustrated below:

Programs like C3RS allow us to gather data beforean accident occurs and to develop risk mitigation strategies well in advance.

Capital Investments, Including Robust R&D

Safety is improved not just through regulations and inspections but also through capital investments and R&D.  Through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act) and subsequent Fiscal Year 2010 appropriation, Congress dedicated more than $10 billion to improve the Nation’s rail system.  The investments made with these funds have reduced trip times, improved reliability, added frequencies, and modernized stations and passenger equipment.  In addition to these service improvements, this funding has also enhanced railroad safety through track and bridge improvements, grade crossing protection measures and separations, and PTC and signal system upgrades. 

Decades of underinvestment have led to a multi-billion dollar backlog of projects required to maintain a state of good repair on our Nation’s rail system, as well as a significant deficit in the capital funding required to meet this current need and rising future demand.  The Administration has put forward comprehensive, $478 billion multi-modal surface transportation reauthorization proposal–the GROW AMERICA Act--to meet the transportation challenges facing the United States.  The proposal includes $29 billion for rail over six years.  The fundamental goal of this proposal is to implement a coordinated approach to enhancing the Nation’s rail system–an integrated strategy that addresses safety and passenger and freight service improvements.

In addition to capital investments, FRA has consistently made gains in safety using advanced R&D.  FRA’s R&D efforts not only provide the scientific and engineering basis for FRA’s rulemaking and enforcement mechanisms, such as FRA’s 2011 substantive hours of service regulations for passenger train employees, FRA’s R&D efforts also advance the next generation of rail safety technology and practices.  FRA has a number of R&D initiatives underway and planned for FY 2016 that will lead to safety improvements across the railroad industry.

FRA’s Reauthorization Priorities

FRA’s two core authorizations–RSIA and the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA) –expired in 2013.  FRA is proud of its accomplishments in implementing RSIA and PRIIA, particularly in light of the laws’ sweeping provisions and the FRA’s concurrent need to implement and administer the Recovery Act funding.  Today, FRA is a very different agency than when these laws were passed, managing an investment portfolio of more than $24 billion in grants and loans.  The rail industry has also changed dramatically since their passage in 2008.  Despite the progress made since 2008, significant work remains to improve the national rail network.  The Administration is encouraged that Congress, and this committee in particular, recognizes the need for action.  The GROW AMERICA Act and the President’s FY 2016 Budget (Budget) present an integrated strategy to enhance safety, maintain current rail services and infrastructure, and expand and improve the rail network to accommodate growing passenger and freight demand.  The Administration’s proposal for rail reflects the following priorities:

  • Build and strengthen our record of safety.  Rail is already among the safest modes of transportation.  Nevertheless, continuous safety improvement is imperative.  FRA is leading several related initiatives, such as the system safety and risk reduction programs that influence safety outcomes proactively and preemptively; expanding the successful C3RS program; and supporting implementation of PTC system technology.  The budget makes investments in advancing FRA’s safety mission by supporting PTC system implementation on Amtrak and commuter rail routes.  In addition, would provide funding to assist with the implementation of PTC on commuter railroads and Amtrak routes, study blocked crossings on a systematic basis, and would grant FRA authority to give merit-based extensions of the PTC implementation deadline, to permit provisional operation of PTC systems, and to prescribe science-based hours of service regulations for covered service employees still governed by the inadequate statutory provisions.
     
  • Grow our economy.  Rail plays a critical role in supporting the stability and growth of the U.S. economy.  Freight rail is a $70 billion industry that is relied upon by various sectors across the economy.  Collectively, freight and intercity passenger rail employs over 250,000 people across America.  Additionally, recent Federal investments in passenger rail are contributing to a revival of domestic rail equipment, manufacturing, and supply industries.    
     
  • Close the infrastructure deficit while modernizing our rail infrastructure.  Past generations of Americans invested heavily to build the infrastructure we rely on today.  Passenger rail capital investments have failed to keep up with the needs of existing fleet and infrastructure requirements. The Northeast Corridor (NEC) alone requires nearly $1.5 billion per year over 15 years just to bring the corridor into a state of good repair and maintain it in that condition.  The average age of the NEC’s major bridges and tunnels is approximately 110 years old.  These assets have remained in service well beyond their expected useful life and today require extensive maintenance and are major sources of corridor delays.  Commuter rail and Amtrak intercity services move 750,000 people each day along the corridor on more than 2,000 daily trains.  An unexpected loss of the NEC for one day alone could cost the Nation nearly $100 million in transportation-related impacts and productivity losses.  Maintaining and modernizing these assets would reduce long-term costs and result in safer, more reliable, and more efficient rail transportation.  The Budget would make investments to reduce the backlog of rail maintenance needs, replace obsolete equipment, and modernize stations to comply with Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.
     
  • Meeting growing market demand.  With the United States expected to gain 70 million people by 2045, the national transportation system must prepare for substantial increases in the movement of people and goods.  Rail transportation will be critical to meeting this growing demand.  FRA’s Budget would make strategic investments that reflect the needs of multiple stakeholders–passenger and freight rail operators, the traveling public and shippers, governments and private interests.  The Budget would fund projects based on specific market needs and rigorous analysis of costs and benefits.  The Budget would make investments in both new and improved passenger rail services with varying frequencies and speeds, offering ladders of opportunity and necessary mobility to a variety of communities.
     
  • Promoting innovation. FRA’s budget invests in R&D and workforce to enable America’s global leadership in rail safety, productivity, and technological innovation.  FRA’s vision is a domestic rail industry that leads the world again–we want U.S. companies to patent state-of-the-art rail technology, supply rail operators throughout the world, and employ the best engineers and railway workers.  The United States should export intellectual capital and rail products, not import them.  The budget makes investments in America’s workforce, manufacturing, and critical R&D activities.
     
  • Ensuring transparency and accountability.  Accomplishing the priorities described above can occur only if these programs are managed through a process that makes expected public benefits and service improvements transparent to the American people. The roles and responsibilities of the Federal government, States, Amtrak, freight railroads, and other stakeholders must be clear and based on sound public policy.  One of the principles of GROW AMERICA and the FY 2016 Budget is to organize funding for current passenger rail services by business lines and invest Amtrak’s NEC operating surpluses back into the corridor to address NEC infrastructure needs.  This structure would improve transparency and accountability for taxpayer investments by aligning costs, revenues, and Federal grants to business lines to better ensure that our investments are advancing the nation’s goals and objectives for rail services.  GROW AMERICA and the FY 2016 Budget also request $350 million per year to bring Amtrak-served rail stations into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Accessibility to our Nation’s rail system is a civil right, and DOT is committed to rectifying this issue.  The Budget would provide a transparent structure that would ensure delivery of public benefits and a high level of accountability for public resources.

The Need for Predictable Funding

An overarching issue that runs across all of these priorities is the need for sustained and predictable Federal funding for rail programs, similar to the treatment of other modes of transportation.  Congress has for decades funded highway infrastructure and safety, transit, and aviation programs through multi-year authorizations that provide guaranteed funding.  This enables States, local governments, and other stakeholders to plan and make large-scale infrastructure investments on a year-to-year basis.  Likewise, internationally, other major rail systems have been planned and developed through a predictable multi-year funding program.  GROW AMERICA would establish a Rail Account within the Transportation Trust Fund to provide this funding certainty for rail.

Conclusion

Thank you for the opportunity to testify and answer your questions today.  Safety is FRA’s number one priority, and we appreciate your attention and focus on such an important issue for the American public.  Our vision for the next generation of rail safety balances a comprehensive and effective regulatory framework with innovative, proactive ideas and capital investment, including critical R&D.  We look forward to working with this Committee to improve our programs and make the American rail network as safe, reliable, and efficient as feasible.  I will be happy to respond to your questions.

# # #

Appendix 1

FRA Rulemakings Completed as of April 1, 2015, that were Mandated, Explicitly or Implicitly, by RSIA[3] as amended by MAP-21[4]

  1. To specify the essential functionalities of mandated PTC systems, define related statutory terms, and identify additional lines for implementation.  (Sec. 104).[5]  Final rule with request for comments published on Jan. 15, 2010; final rule amendments published on Sept. 27, 2010.
     
  2. To establish substantive hours of service requirements for passenger train employees.  (Sec. 108(d)).  Final rule published on Aug. 12, 2011.
     
  3. To update existing hours of service recordkeeping regulations.  (Sec.108(f)).  Final rule published on May 27, 2009.
     
  4. To require State-specific action plans from certain States to improve safety at highway-rail grade crossings.  (Sec. 202).  Final rule published on June 28, 2010.
     
  5. To implement the statutory requirement that railroads report certain information to DOT’s National Crossing Inventory.  (Sec. 204 as amended by MAP-21).  Final rule published on Jan. 6, 2015.
     
  6. To require toll-free telephone emergency notification numbers for reporting problems at public and private highway-rail grade crossings.  (Sec. 205).  Final rule published on June 12, 2012; final rule amendments and response to petitions for reconsideration published on Mar. 15, 2013. 
     
  7. Increase the ordinary maximum and aggravated maximum civil penalties per violation for rail safety violations to $25,000 and $100,000, respectively.  (Sec. 302).  Final rule published on Dec. 30, 2008; correcting amendment published on Apr. 6, 2009.
     
  8. On prohibition of individuals from performing safety-sensitive functions in the railroad industry for a violation of hazardous materials transportation law.  (Sec. 305). Final rule on published May 19, 2009.
     
  9. On procedures for emergency waivers.  (Sec. 308).  Final rule published on May 19, 2009. 
     
  10.  To require training standards and plans for categories of railroad employees.  (Sec.401). Final rule published on Nov. 7, 2014.
     
  11. To require the certification of conductors.  (Sec. 402).  Final rule published Nov. 9, 2011; final rule amendments and response to petition for reconsideration published on Feb. 8, 2012. 
     
  12. On the results of FRA’s study of track inspection intervals and other track issues.  (Sec. 403(c))Final rule published on Jan. 24, 2014.
     
  13. On concrete ties.  (Sec. 403(d))Final rule published Apr. 1, 2011; stay of final rule published June 15, 2011; final rule responding to petitions for reconsideration published on Sept. 9, 2011.
     
  14. To require certain railroads to develop and submit for FRA approval their plans for providing appropriate support services to employees affected by a “critical incident” as defined by FRA.  (Sec. 410(a)).  Final rule published on Mar. 25, 2014.
     
  15. To require owners of railroad bridges to implement programs for inspection, maintenance, and management of those structures. (Sec. 417).  Final rule published on Jul. 15, 2010.
     
  16. On camp cars used as railroad employee sleeping quarters. (Sec. 420).  Final rule published on Oct. 31, 2011.
     
  17. Amending regulations of the Office of the Secretary of Transportation to provide that the Secretary delegates to the Administrator of FRA the responsibility to carry out the Secretary’s responsibilities under RSIA.  (Necessitated by RSIA as a whole, but not a specific section of RSIA)  Published June 5, 2009.

Completed RSIA-Mandated Guidance and Model State Laws[6]

  1. Guidance on pedestrian safety at or near rail passenger stations.  (Sec. 201).  Guidance provided in April 2012.
     
  2. Guidance for the administration of the authority to buy items of nominal value and distribute them to the public as part of a crossing safety or railroad trespass prevention program.  (Sec. 208(c)).  Guidance provided on June 25, 2009.
     
  3. Model State law on highway users’ sight distances at passively signed highway-rail grade crossings.  (Sec. 203).  Model State law provided on Jan. 7, 2011.
     
  4. Model State law on motorists’ violations of grade crossing warning devices. (Sec. 208)Model State law provided on Nov. 10, 2011.

Completed RSIA-Mandated Non-periodic Reports or Studies[7]

  1. Report to Congress on DOT’s long-term (minimum 5-year) strategy for improving rail safety, including annual plans and schedules for achieving specified statutory goals, to be submitted with the President’s annual budget. (Sec. 102).  Submitted with the President’s budget for fiscal year 2011.
     
  2. Report to Congress on the progress of railroads’ implementation of PTC.  (Sec. 104).  Submitted in August 2012.
     
  3. Conduct study to evaluate whether it is in the public interest to withhold from discovery or admission, in certain judicial proceedings for damages, the reports and data compiled to implement, etc., a required risk reduction program.  (Sec. 109).  Submitted on Oct. 21, 2011.
     
  4. Report to Congress on (a) “the effectiveness of any [hours of service] pilot project pursuant to a waiver” under 49 U.S.C. § 21108(a), (b) the status of all other waivers granted under that provision, and (c) recommendations for amendments to the hours of service laws. [8](Sec. 110).  Submitted on Oct. 20, 2014.
     
  5. Evaluate and review current local, State, and Federal laws regarding trespassing on railroad property, vandalism affecting railroad safety, and violations of highway-rail grade crossing warning devices.  (Sec. 208(a)). Posted on FRA’s Web site in 2009.
     
  6. Report to Congress on the results of DOT research about track inspection intervals, etc. (Sec. 403(a)-(b)). Submitted on May 2, 2011.
     
  7. Conduct study of methods to improve or correct passenger station platform gaps (Sec. 404).  Submitted on Jan. 10, 2011. 
     
  8. Report to Congress detailing the results of DOT research about use of personal electronic devices in the locomotive cab by safety-related railroad employees. (Sec. 405).  Submitted May 27, 2010.
     
  9. Report to Congress on DOT research about the effects of repealing a provision exempting Consolidated Rail Corporation, etc., from certain labor-related laws (45 U.S.C. § 797j).  (Sec. 408).  Submitted on May 26, 2011.
     
  10. Report to Congress on the results of DOT research about exposure of railroad employees and others to radiation.  (Sec. 411).  Submitted on Jan. 27, 2011.
     
  11. Report to Congress on DOT study on the expected safety effects of reducing inspection frequency of diesel-electric locomotives in limited service by railroad museums.  (Sec. 415).  Submitted on Jul. 27, 2010.
     
  12. Report to Congress on model plans and recommendations, to be developed through a task force to be established by DOT, to help railroads respond to passenger rail accidents. (Sec. 503).  Submitted on Apr. 20, 2011.

[1]The Secretary of Transportation submitted the GROW AMERICA Act to Congress on March 30, 2015.  “GROW AMERICA” stands for “Generating Renewal, Opportunity, and Work with Accelerated Mobility, Efficiency, and Rebuilding of Infrastructure and Communities throughout America.”

[2] Cant deficiency involves traveling through a curve faster than the balance speed and produces a net lateral force to the outside of the curve. http://www.highspeed-rail.org/Documents/PRIIA%20305%20DocSpec%20and%20other%20NGEC%20Documents/305%20PRIIA%20Tilt%20presentation.pdf

[3] In addition, FRA commenced a rulemaking to define “critical incident” for purposes of the mandated rulemaking on critical incident stress plans as specifically required by Sec. 410(c)). These rulemaking or quasi-rulemaking mandates, involving a total of either six final rules or five final rules and one guidance document) remain open:  Sec. 103 (for three rules--on system safety programs, risk reduction programs, and fatigue management plans); Sec. 406 (for guidance or a rule regarding rail safety technology on line in dark territory (lines not equipped with operational wayside signal or train control system); Sec. 412 (for a rule extending coverage of alcohol and drug rules to maintenance of way workers); and Sec. 420 (for a rule on emergency escape breathing apparatus). 

[4] Effective October 1, 2012, Section 1519(c)(6) of the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) amended a provision that was enacted in Sec. 204 of RSIA concerning the National Highway-Rail Crossing Inventory.  In particular, MAP-21 repealed Subsections (l)(3) and (l)(4) of 49 U.S.C. 130.

[5] In addition to RSIA-mandated PTC rules, FRA has published three other PTC rules and PTC-related interim guidance.

[6] In addition, FRA has published three guidance documents on the hours of service laws as amended by RSIA in the FederalRegister.

[7] Mandates for four individual reports/studies remain open.  Sec. 108(e) contingently requires two studies.  These studies are not yet due because the contingencies (two specified hours of service “pilot projects of sufficient size and scope to analyze” specified “practices . . . to reduce fatigue”) have not yet arisen, as FRA must receive requests from railroads and rail labor organizations in order to conduct the pilot projects that FRA must study.  FRA has not received any requests, but continues to encourage participation.  Sec. 402 requires a study of whether additional certification programs are necessary, to be submitted within 6 months after promulgating the training standards required by Sec. 401; FRA has begun the study, having published the training standards final rule on Nov. 7, 2014.  Sec. 703 requires a non-safety study that is being handled by the Office of the Secretary of Transportation and the Department of Energy.  

[8] FRA has fulfilled this mandate unless and until a railroad conducts an additional pilot project under Sec. 110 of RSIA.  If an additional such pilot project that occurs, another report to Congress will become due.