“Advancing the implementation of positive train control is among the most important rail safety initiatives on the department’s agenda,” Chao said.
PTC systems are designed to automatically stop a train in order to prevent collisions with other trains and equipment on the tracks.
In a Dec. 27 batch of letters mailed to the chief executives of 47 railroads, including Class I, small and regional, and passenger services operating across the United States, Chao expressed concern about the insufficient levels of PTC implementation, so far.
“Upon review of the latest data provided by the industry, we are concerned that many of the nation’s railroads must greatly accelerate their efforts to achieve the congressionally mandated requirements,” she said.
According to DOT, eight of the 37 railroads required to implement PTC systems on their own tracks have obtained the Federal Railroad Administration's conditional PTC System Certification.
Twelve railroads have completed installation of all hardware necessary for PTC system implementation, and another 12 railroads said they have installed less than 50 percent of the hardware required for their PTC systems, as of Sept. 30, 2017.
DOT said 26 railroads have started field testing PTC systems on segments of track. Data submitted by these railroads has shown that by Sept. 30, 2017, these PTC systems are in operation on 45 percent of the required route miles of track owned by freight railroads and 24 percent of the route miles of track owned by passenger railroads, the department said.
Railroads may request an extension on the Dec. 31, 2018 deadline, but DOT warned that civil penalties will be issued to railroads that fail to implement PTC systems.
However, U.S. lawmakers are losing patience with DOT and the railroads. A group of 15 senators located in states with dense rail networks in a letter to Chao in late December demanded that DOT make PTC a priority for completion nationwide by year’s end.