Positive Train Control: Sarah, it’s all up to you—for now

September 14, 2015

Acting Federal Railroad Administrator Sarah Feinberg will respond to questions before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation at her confirmation hearing to become permanent FRA Administrator on Thursday, Sept. 17th at 9:45 a.m. Will the hearing be about her job qualifications, or about the controversy on Capitol Hill surrounding the Dec. 31, 2015 Positive Train Control implementation deadline?

The latter topic cannot be avoided.

“Despite it being a confirmation hearing, the subject matter most certainly will be the PTC implementation deadline and what actions FRA can or should take to avoid the embargoes on TIH hazmat and passenger traffic the railroads maintain they will be forced to enact on Jan. 1, 2016, since—as they say—they are unable to meet the deadline and would be violating federal law should they operate such trains,” notes Railway Age Contributing Editor Frank N. Wilner.Website Insert Gathering of Professionals copy

As most followers of Capitol Hill goings-on realize, confirmation hearings tend to be based on political agendas and not on the actual nominee and his or her qualifications. That’s business as usual in Washington. However, in this case, things are much more complicated, and Feinberg—a skilled and by many accounts effective political insider—may feel like she’s caught between a rock and a hard place.

Feinberg’s testimony—specifically, her answers to questions about PTC delays and potential fallout effects—could be a difficult balancing act for the long-time Democratic political operative. Sen. John Thune (R-S.Dak.), who serves as chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation and has a great deal of influence upon whether Feinberg is confirmed or rejected, supports the railroads’ position that the PTC deadline must be extended and stands ready with legislation that will accomplish just that. The FRA itself has said to Congress that the deadline is unattainable and must be extended.

 

Read Railway Age Editor-in-Chief William C. Vantuono’s full commentary by clicking here.

 

 

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