Railroads say shutdown likely as safety deadline looms

September 10, 2015

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The Union Pacific Railroad and the BNSF Railway, two of the nation’s biggest railroads, say they plan to shut down much of their networks, including commuter service in Chicago and Amtrak passenger service, rather than violate a federal law mandating that a complex and expensive safety system be operational by Dec. 31.

The action by these freight railroads and others poses the likelihood of a national rail transportation crisis if Congress fails to extend the deadline for implementation of the Positive Train Control system, or allows federal officials to grant the railroads temporary waivers.

Due to the cost and complexity of PTC, few if any railroads, including Metra, say they will have the system completely installed by the end of the year.

A stoppage by the railroads would have a wide-ranging impact on the flow of goods across the country — from farm products to coal and crude oil — as well as prevent operations on some of Metra’s busiest lines.

The BNSF and three UP lines carry more than 169,000 passengers a day on 288 trains to and from Downtown. About 5,400 Amtrak customers pass though the city each day. BNSF and UP operate the four Metra lines under a contract on the freight tracks they own.

A spokesman said Thursday that Amtrak has received no notification that any railroad intends to suspend passenger service on tracks that are not PTC compliant by the Dec. 31 deadline.

Metra did not immediately respond to the Tribune’s request for comment.

The railroads’ threat is being taken quite seriously by many in the rail industry. Railroads fear that they will expose themselves to significant legal claims and punitive damages if an accident were to occur if they operate in violation of the law.

The Federal Railroad Administration has said it would fine the railroads up to $25,000 a day if they operated without PTC.

Read Chicago Tribune reporter Richard Wronski’s full article by clicking here.



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