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Vice President Tolman testifies before House on PTC

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio, February 15 — BLET Vice President and National Legislative Representative John P. Tolman urged Congress, the railroads, and governmental regulators to ensure that Positive Train Control (PTC) is fully implemented by the current deadline of December 31, 2018. During his testimony, Vice President Tolman also discussed the problem of electronic device distraction (Trip Optimizer and LEADER); the government and industry’s failure to address rail worker fatigue; the danger of excessive train lengths; and the need for two person train crews.

Tolman began his testimony by expressing his anger and frustration at having to yet again testify at a hearing where preventable rail accidents and fatalities were the main topic of discussion.

“We strongly urge you to take all appropriate measures to ensure the current PTC deadline is met,” Vice President Tolman testified on February 15 before a hearing of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials. “It is time to get past decades of the industry’s ‘can’t do’ excuses, and it is time for all of Congress to get on board the safety train.”

With passage of the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (RSIA), Congress mandated the implementation of PTC nationwide by the end of 2015, then — under pressure from railroads — extended that deadline until the end of 2018. Many PTC-preventable crashes and deaths have occurred during the three year deadline extension.

“Some railroads have dragged their feet since the [2008] mandate and persuaded Congress to go along with the dithering and — with the [2015] deadline looming in the face of threats to cripple the economy and strand passengers — Congress granted an eleventh hour extension,” Vice President Tolman testified. “We warned Congress in 2015 that their actions would result in people dying from collisions that PTC could prevent. Congress was convinced by the railroad industry that more time was needed. Here we are years later and PTC is not fully implemented. Safety has waited too long and lives have been lost during the last extension.”

According to a 2015 report from the National Transportation Safety Board, PTC could have prevented 145 rail accidents that killed 288 people and injured 6,574 since 1969, when the agency first recommended the technology.

Regarding electronic device distraction, Brother Tolman was critical of the Trip Optimizer and LEADER systems in use on certain North American rail carriers. “Human factor issues will require close attention to be paid to human-machine interface problems as more screens with more buttons and submenus come online to interface with PTC,” Tolman said. “We also recognize the challenges PTC will place on train crews who will be forced to interact with more computer screens in the locomotive cab. This will only increase the potential for electronic device distraction, given the already widespread use of technologies such as Trip Optimizer and LEADER.”

While PTC was mandated by the RSIA of 2008, the law also addressed the issue of rail worker fatigue. However, the fatigue has not been sufficiently addressed in the past 10 years. Vice President Tolman reminded Congress of this glaring oversight during his testimony.

“[Fatigue] has been wrestled with for decades and Congress made an attempt to alleviate it in the RSIA in 2008. However, the regulator’s effort in meeting the requirements of the Act has not produced any measurable results a full decade after Congress mandated that the management sit down with labor and work out genuine fatigue mitigation plans.”

Vice President Tolman warned Congress about the danger of excessive train lengths. “Freight trains have been getting longer and heavier in recent years. Some of these trains have been over three miles long. This creates technical challenges with maintaining brake pipe pressure that aids a train in slowing and stopping. There are currently no federal regulations or laws that address train length. This needs to change.”

Vice President Tolman encouraged all members of Congress to consider bipartisan support for two-person crew bills that are progressing though the House and Senate. He thanked Representative Don Young for introducing the Safe Freight Act (H.R. 233) and Senator Heidi Heitkamp for introducing S. 2360, a companion bill in the Senate. Both measures would require two-person train crews on freight trains.

“On the railroad, train crews consisting of Engineers and Conductors form a solid team that moves trains across the United States safely every day,” Vice President Tolman said. “True safety requires two crew members on every freight train, and such a goal should have no party lines.”

The hearing was titled “Oversight of Positive Train Control Implementation in the United States.” Additional witnesses included: Richard Anderson, Chief Executive Officer, Amtrak; Juan D. Reyes III, Chief Counsel, Federal Railroad Administration; Robert Sumwalt, Chairman, National Transportation Safety Board; Edward Hamberger, President and Chief Executive Officer, Association of American Railroads; and Paul Skoutelas, President and Chief Executive Officer, American Public Transportation Association.

A copy of Vice President Tolman’s testimony can be found here (PDF).

Thursday, February 15, 2018

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