Rail Safety

Water Groups Push Congress To Extend Rail Safety Deadline

As the deadline to install positive train control systems on U.S. railroads approaches, several groups representing the water industry are warning of the costs to clean water should Congress not act to allow more time to install the technology.

Congressional regulations on rail safety are having an unintended effect on the water industry.

Under the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, railroads throughout the country are required to install positive train control (PTC) technology before Dec. 31, 2015. But many railroads are not going to make that deadline and are threatening partial or complete shutdowns beginning January 1 unless Congress extends it. Shutdowns would create interruptions in the delivery of water disinfection chemicals that are used to treat municipal drinking water and wastewater, according to several water groups [PDF].

“The water sector supports implementation of safe transportation of potentially hazardous materials,” the groups wrote in a letter sent to Congress late last month. “All but a handful of U.S. railroads have acknowledged, however, that due primarily to technological challenges in a PTC system, they will not be ready for the December 31 deadline. That means they will not be able to transport these critical materials without facing steep federal fines, and are therefore unlikely to handle such shipments without an extension in place.”

The letter was signed by representatives from the American Water Works Association, Association of California Water Agencies, Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, National Association of Clean Water Agencies, and National Association of Water Companies.

Other industry groups are also warning of the potential losses from rail disruption. Should railroads discontinue rail service for even a month, it could cost the U.S. economy $30 billion, according to estimates by the American Chemistry Council. Meanwhile, the American Public Transportation Association has said that installing PTC technology nationwide on commuter rail systems by the end of the year is not possible due to technology and funding challenges. According to APTA, commuter railroads carry about 38.5 million people a month.

The Importance of PTC

The need for PTC technology was highlighted this past spring after a train derailment outside of Philadelphia killed eight people.

After the crash, the Association of American Railroads, which supports PTC, spoke out on the need for additional time to implement the technology.

“[D]ue to PTC’s complexity and the enormity of the implementation task—and the fact that much of the technology PTC requires simply did not exist when the PTC mandate was passed and has had to be developed from scratch—much work remains to be done,” the group said in a policy statement.

(Chris Sardegna/ThinkStock)

Katie Bascuas

By Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. MORE

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