TRAINS columnist Fred Frailey’s analysis of the looming PTC deadline crisis

September 10, 2015

BNSF: We will shut down

In a candid letter to a U.S. senator, BNSF Railway’s chief executive, Carl Ice, said September 9 that BNSF would in effect shut down most of its network rather than violate a federal law mandating that positive train control be operational by December 31. CSX Transportation has said it, too, questions whether it should violate federal laws, and other Class I carriers are likely to follow suit. This set up the real possibility of a national transportation crisis at the beginning of 2016. The public may be unaware of how closely the U.S. economy is tied to railroads, but the reality is that without railroads, this country will quickly cease to function normally. Imagine, for instance, no electricity to heat homes.Website Insert State Supported Passenger Trains copy

In his letter to Senator John Thune (R-South Dakota), chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Ice says that the railroad has already spent $1.5 billion to deploy PTC and will likely spend another $500 million. Ultimately, this new technology will be deployed on half of BNSF’s network, the portion that handles 80 percent of its traffic.

But portions of both transcontinental routes will not be operational by the December 31 deadline set by Congress in 2008. Nor will commuter zones in Chicago, Seattle and Minneapolis. Ice says that to avoid operating on PTC-mandated subdivisions where PTC will not be installed before the deadline would force traffic on secondary routes unequipped to handle it and lead to a paralysis of the railroad.

Read Fred Frailey’s full analysis in his blog for TRAINS Magazine by clicking here.


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