Freight railroads may halt service unless Congress acts

September 10, 2015

WASHINGTON (AP) – Widespread disruptions of freight and passenger rail traffic are likely if Congress doesn’t extend a deadline to start using certain safety technology before the end of the year, railroads are warning.

Freight and passenger railroads have said in letters to the Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune, R-S.D., that they won’t have the technology – known as positive train control, or PTC – in operation by Dec. 31, the deadline set by a 2008 rail safety law.

The technology automatically stops trains to prevent collisions with other trains or derailments due to high speeds. By the deadline, the technology is required to be in operation on all tracks used by passenger trains and to transport chemicals that are toxic to inhale.Website Insert State Supported Passenger Trains copy

Amtrak relies on freight rail tracks for much of its operations outside the Northeast, as do many commuter railroads.

Sarah Feinberg, head of the Federal Railroad Administration, has said her agency intends to enforce the 2008 law, including imposing fines on railroads that don’t meet the deadline.

To avoid the fines, some freight railroads say they may halt the chemicals shipments and stop allowing passenger trains to use their tracks.

Lance Fritz, Union Pacific’s president, said the railroad plans to stop the chemical shipments several weeks prior to the deadline, and long-distance passenger operations several days ahead.

Cities might have to do without chlorine to purify drinking water and farmers without fertilizer, he wrote Thune. Chlorine and anhydrous ammonia, used to make nitrogen fertilizer, are two of the mostly frequent toxic-by-inhalation chemicals shipped by rail.

“Operations across our entire network will likely be compromised by congestion and effectively shut down,” warned Carl Ice, the president of BNSF, formerly Burlington Northern-Santa Fe. “BNSF would do whatever is reasonably possible to mitigate this impact, but the consequences for the economy and for our company would be substantial.”

Read Associated Press reporter Joan Lowy’s full story in the Quincy, Illinois Herald-Whig by clicking here.


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