The nation’s rail safety chief told a group of railroad officials she expects them to complete a long-delayed collision-avoidance system by the end of 2018 and to not count on Congress to give them an additional reprieve.
Recent legislation approved by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama gives them a three-year extension to complete positive train control, though with some wiggle room to seek an additional two years if necessary.
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) will soon unveil its expectations for railroads to meet the newly extended Dec. 31, 2018, deadline for positive train control (PTC) implementation, FRA Administrator Sarah Feinberg told members of the Railroad Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC) last week.
Feinberg urged railroads not to make the extension their primary focus, but to focus on “getting PTC up and running as soon as possible,” according to a prepared statement of remarks.
“Over the last year, I am sure you have observed that FRA is in a much more aggressive posture on PTC, and everyone should expect for that posture to continue,” Feinberg told the committee, which advises the railroad industry on safety policy.
The U.S. Senate yesterday passed a short-term surface transportation funding extension that includes a long-term extension of the positive train control (PTC) implementation deadline. The Senate’s action followed the House’s approval of the bill on Tuesday, and President Obama is expected to sign it.
The legislation reauthorizes funding of transportation programs through Nov. 20, and pushes back the Dec. 31 deadline for railroads to install PTC safety technology to Dec. 31, 2018, and as late as 2020 under certain circumstances.
The deadline extension will ward off a nationwide shutdown of railroad services, which industry leaders said would occur after Jan. 1, 2016, if the deadline wasn’t postponed. Most railroads would have missed the Dec. 31 deadline, and many indicated they wouldn’t operate in violation of federal law.
Read more from Progressive Railroading about PTC extension and Sarah Feinberg’s confirmation as administrator to the FRA.
President Obama’s choice to lead the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has been approved by the Senate committee that handles transportation issues.
Obama’s nomination of Sarah Feinberg, who has been leading the FRA since January, for a full-time term atop the rail agency was approved by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on Tuesday in a 19-1 vote.
Lawmakers on the panel said Feinberg deserves a shot at the full-time FRA chief position after handling multiple accidents since she became interim rail administrator earlier this year.
At a nomination hearing September 17, 2015, before the Senate’s Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) Acting Administrator Sarah Feinberg testified on her qualifications as Administrator. Below is her speech.
“Chairman Thune, Ranking Member Nelson, and Members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today. Senator Manchin, thank you for your kind introduction. I am grateful for your friendship, your decades of service to our home state, and your strong support.
“I’ll just briefly note that I’m so pleased that my brothers, David and Matthew, are here with me, and other members of my family are with me in spirit.
“It is an honor to have been nominated by President Obama to serve as the Administrator for the Federal Railroad Administration and to have earned the confidence of Secretary Foxx. It is also a great responsibility, one that I take seriously.
“Just one month after I became Acting Administrator, a Metro-North train traveling out of New York City with hundreds of passengers hit a car at a grade-crossing. Six people were killed doing what millions of Americans do every day: traveling home from work; visiting friends; on the way to see family.
“Days later, in Senator Manchin’s and my home state of West Virginia, a mile-and-a-half long train carrying 109 tank cars loaded with crude oil derailed near the town of Montgomery. One person was injured; multiple small communities were evacuated; a fire burned for days. And anyone who visited the scene would agree: we got lucky.
“In May, an Amtrak train traveling significantly over the speed limit derailed in Philadelphia. The horrific accident took the lives of eight people—again, men and women simply closing out an evening commute and heading home to see their families.
“These accidents are searing reminders that millions of Americans depend on railroads, and FRA’s diligent oversight, to transport them safely to their jobs each morning, to their homes and families each night, and to deliver goods and products safely every day.
“Next year, FRA will be a half-century old. The agency has a proud history and a long list of accomplishments, most notably its significant contributions in recent years to improving rail safety. Rail deaths and injuries are down dramatically, worker injuries are down, derailments and incidents are down. And those decreases are very much a testament to the work of the men and women of FRA and the rail industry too.
“But, in many ways, safety in the rail industry has plateaued. Improvements are generally not as dramatic as they used to be, and we occasionally even see spikes in the wrong direction. That calls for action.
“The American people expect every federal agency to adapt to new conditions and new realities, to be willing to change, to be open to criticism. Over the last eight months, that is what FRA has done – willing to respond to new leadership, and a new direction. Along the way, we found new solutions to old challenges.
“We have tried new solutions to end the old challenge of grade crossings accidents and fatalities. We partnered with police around the country to step up enforcement. And, in June, Google agreed to integrate our grade crossing data to add audio and visual alerts on Google maps, marking the first time the agency has partnered with a technology company.
“We have taken a new approach to the way we handle old NTSB recommendations. When I arrived at FRA in January, there were more than 70 NTSB recommendations awaiting action. With new determination, we have taken action on more than half of them – reducing the number of outstanding recommendations by nearly 15 percent. Some of these recommendations had been sitting for at least five years. Today, we await word back from the NTSB on another 30. I will not be satisfied until each recommendation is acted upon, implemented, or at the very least responded to.
“We’ve also been looking for new solutions when it comes to our financing programs.
“FRA listened to the frustrations that many members of this committee expressed about the Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing (RRIF) program, and we’ve acted.
“With more staff and greater attention, we made the program stronger and faster. This year, we have already completed two and expect to complete two more soon. You have my word: the RRIF program is open for business.
“While working to try to bring new solutions to these old challenges, we’ve also stayed focused on our ongoing priorities. The men and women of FRA have spent much of 2015 delivering significant results on those priorities.
“With our sister agency, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, we completed the High Hazard Flammable Train rule. Since the crude oil train derailment in Lac-Mégantic, Canada, two years ago, the United States has seen more than a dozen crude oil train derailments of our own. In May, the Department of Transportation issued a final, comprehensive rule that aims to prevent these types of accidents—and lessens their impact if they do occur.
“We’ve prioritized PTC implementation – hiring staff and creating a task force that reports to me regularly on progress and the performance of each railroad. We were also proud to work with many here today and in the greater New York City region to provide a nearly $1 billion loan to implement Positive Train Control on MTA’s system.
“Both the Administration’s budget and its GROW AMERICA Act have requested significant funding to assist commuter railroads on PTC installation. Chairman Thune, I want to thank you and members of this committee, in particular, for the recently passed legislation that seeks to leverage $200 million to cover some of the costs and expenses railroads face when taking out a RRIF loan to implement PTC.
“All this activity is in addition to our continued focus on making sure the agency’s partners deliver High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail projects for the American people.
“We continue to closely monitor the funding that Congress invested across the country to provide faster, more frequent and more reliable passenger rail service.
“None of this success would have been possible without the tireless work of the nearly 900 public servants at the agency who are dedicated to rail safety. It’s been my honor to lead them as Acting Administrator.
“Chairman Thune and Ranking Member Nelson, I am pushing FRA each day to be vigilant in the pursuit of safety, and open to paths to innovation from any source. The agency is engaged, enthusiastic, and driven, because we know the gravity of our responsibilities and the size of our opportunities. A safe rail system is a strong rail system. And our country continues to need rail to build its future.
“If confirmed, I would eagerly work with all members of this committee and all members of Congress to build a stronger and safer rail system. One we can all be proud of.
“Thank you Mr. Chairman, and members of the Committee, and I look forward to your questions.”
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) today issued a final rule to prevent unattended trains that carry crude, ethanol, poisonous by inhalation (PIH), toxic by inhalation (TIH), and other highly flammable contents from rolling away. Railroad employees who are responsible for securing a train will now be permanently required to communicate with another qualified individual trained on the railroad’s securement requirements to verify that trains and equipment are properly secured.
“Today’s rule is part of the Department of Transportation’s comprehensive effort to bolster the safety of trains transporting crude oil and other highly flammable contents,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “Verifying that a train has been properly secured is a common sense solution to prevent accidents.”
The final rule will go into effect 60 days from publication in the Federal Register. Exterior locks on locomotives will also be required by March 1, 2017, and must be utilized when a locomotive has been left unattended.
Today’s rule requirements include:
A qualified and trained railroad employee to properly secure the equipment and verification of the securement with a second trained and qualified employee;
Additional communication, including job briefings among crew members responsible for the train securement;
Properly installed and utilized exterior locks on locomotives;
The setting of sufficient handbrakes;
Removal of the train reverser; and
The proper use of train air brakes.
The rule applies to the following trains left unattended on a mainline, siding, and rail yard:
Trains carrying any poisonous by inhalation (PIH) and toxic by inhalation (TIH) hazardous materials; and
Trains carrying 20 or more cars of other high-hazard flammable materials.
“Where the Federal Railroad Administration can take smart steps to quickly raise the bar on safety, it will, and that is exactly what we are doing today. Requiring that an additional, trained individual double check that the handbrakes have been set on a train will help stop preventable accidents,” said Acting Administrator Sarah Feinberg. “While today’s rule came out of a lesson learned from the Lac-Mégantic derailment, FRA will not hesitate to take additional actions to keep the rail system in the United States safe.”
On July 6, 2013, an unattended 74-car freight train carrying Bakken crude oil rolled downhill and derailed in Lac-Mégantic, Canada. Forty-seven people died and many more were injured. While the Canadian government found that there were nearly 20 causes of the accident, a major cause was that the engineer of the train did not properly secure the train.
Since the Lac-Mégantic derailment, DOT has taken more than 30 actions, including regulations, emergency orders, and safety advisories, to prevent train accidents and improve the safety of high-hazard flammable trains.
The following is a written statement by FRA Acting Administrator Sarah Feinberg.
Can one of the nation’s newest, fastest-moving industries help to solve one of transportation’s oldest problems? At the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), we think the answer is yes. That is why we are proud to announce that Google has agreed to partner with us to make rail crossings safer for drivers and their passengers.
Google has agreed to integrate FRA’s GIS data, which pinpoints the location of the nation’s approximately 250,000 public and private railroad crossings, into its mapping services. Adding railroad crossing data to smartphone mapping applications just makes sense – it means supplying drivers and passengers with additional cues that they are approaching a crossing.
For drivers and passengers who are driving an unfamiliar route, traveling at night, or who lose situational awareness at any given moment, receiving an additional alert about an upcoming crossing could save lives. We know that more and more drivers today use map applications on smartphones to guide them to their destinations. While mobile device maps and applications are trusted sources for directions and guidance, many of them do not notify drivers when they are approaching a rail crossing, or do not identify the rail crossing at all. When drivers are alerted or reminded that there is a rail crossing ahead, they may be more likely to remain alert, use greater caution, and obey the signal crossings.
From the very beginning of his tenure, Secretary Foxx has pushed all of us to do more to integrate technology to raise the bar on safety across all modes of transportation. This partnership, which will allow us to do just that, is an important development. Secretary Foxx and I are incredibly grateful that Google has quickly agreed to work with us, and we are hopeful that other tech companies that develop map applications will join us too.
Last year, approximately 270 people died in highway-rail collisions that were largely preventable. This is the first time this decade in which that number has actually increased from the previous year. We can—and should—do everything possible to end vehicular-train incidents at rail crossings. With Google and other tech companies’ help, I’m confident that we can achieve this goal even faster.
Not long after I arrived at FRA, I promised a fresh look at how to prevent grade crossing accidents. The key so far has been in our partnerships – with local police, to increase enforcement actions; with Operation Lifesaver[external link], to help educate people about the risks; and now, with Google, to help with driver awareness through smarter engineering.
At FRA, we’ll continue to build more of these dynamic partnerships – because we must do everything we can to reduce grade crossing accidents that far too often have tragic consequences.
Washington, D.C. – Sarah Feinberg, acting director of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), addressed the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure concerning the implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC) June 24, 2015. Her speech follows.
“PTC technology is arguably the single-most important railroad safety development in more than a century. The technology is not new though – elements of PTC have existed since the early 20th century. In fact, regulators and safety advocates have been calling on the rail industry to implement some form of PTC for many decades.
“The Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 required the current functionality of Positive Train Control to be fully implemented by December 31, 2015. PTC is required on Class I railroad main lines where any poisonous or toxic by inhalation hazardous materials are transported. It is also required on any railroad’s main line where regularly scheduled intercity or commuter rail passenger service is conducted.
“Following passage of the PTC mandate in 2008, railroads submitted their PTC Implementation Plans in 2010 – these plans laid out a path forward that would allow each railroad to meet the deadline.
“As I have stated to this committee before: safety is the Federal Railroad Administration’s top priority. The rail system is not as safe as it could be without the full implementation of PTC. A safe rail system requires the full implementation of Positive Train Control. And that’s why FRA will enforce the Dec. 31, 2015 deadline for implementation, just as Congress mandated.
“For several years, FRA has been sounding the alarm that most railroads have not made sufficient progress in implementing PTC.
“In the seven years since passage of the PTC mandate, FRA has dedicated significant resources and worked closely with the railroad industry in order to assist and guide implementation. The FRA has:
Hired staff to assist and oversee the implementation of PTC;
Worked directly with the Federal Communications Commission to resolve spectrum issues and improve the approval process related to PTC communication towers;
Built a PTC system test bed at the Transportation Technology Center in Pueblo, Colo.;
Provided approximately $650 million in grant funds to support PTC implementation. This includes American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grants as well as Amtrak grants and other annual appropriations;
Requested $825 million to assist commuter railroads for the last two years;
Issued a $967-million loan through the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing program to the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the nation’s largest commuter railroad.
“I have also established a new PTC Task Force Team within FRA – that team is aggressively managing and monitoring each individual railroads’ progress, tracking data, ensuring we have the most accurate and up-to-date information and reporting in to me multiple times per week. This team is working in close collaboration with the many individuals at FRA, based here in Washington and in offices around the country, already working on this challenge.
“But, unfortunately, despite FRA’s financial support, technical assistance and warnings to Congress, many railroads have stated publicly that they will still not meet the Dec. 31, 2015, deadline.
“Recently, FRA received updated information about PTC implementation from 32 of the 38 railroads that we are currently tracking for enforcement purposes. Initial analysis indicates that Class I railroads have:
Completed or partially completed installations of approximately 50 percent of the locomotives that require PTC equipment;
Deployed approximately 50 percent of wayside units;
Replaced approximately 50 percent of signals that need replacement; and
Completed most of the required mapping for PTC tracks.
“By the end of 2015, AAR projects that:
39 percent of locomotives will be fully equipped;
76 percent of wayside interface units will be installed;
67 percent of base station radios will be installed; and
34 percent of required employees will be trained.
“According to APTA, 29 percent of commuter railroads are targeting to complete installation of PTC equipment by the end of 2015. Full implementation of PTC for all commuter lines is projected by 2020.
“FRA continues our work to finalize an enforcement strategy for those railroads that will miss the deadline. As with any regulatory enforcement posture, our ultimate goal is to bring all railroads into compliance as quickly and as safely as possible.
“Starting on January 1, 2016, FRA will impose penalties on railroads that have not fully implemented PTC. Fines will be based on FRA’s PTC penalty guidelines, which establish different penalties depending on the violation. There are many potential violations, such as:
$15,000 to $25,000 fine for failure to equip locomotives
“The penalties may be assessed per violation, per day and may be raised or lowered depending on mitigating or aggravating factors.
“The total amount of penalty each railroad faces will depend upon the amount of implementation progress the railroad has made.
“FRA will also use additional, appropriate enforcement tools to ensure railroads implement PTC on the fastest schedule possible – be it emergency orders, compliance orders, compliance agreements, additional civil penalties or any other tools at our disposal.
“FRA is also planning for what will come after the Jan. 1 deadline. In both 2014 and 2015, the Department and FRA asked Congress to provide FRA with additional authorities that would address the safety gap that will exist on many railroads between Jan. 1, 2016 and each railroad’s full PTC implementation.
“These additional authorities would provide FRA with the ability to review, approve and require interim safety measures for individual railroads that may fail to meet the PTC deadline. These interim safety requirements would be to ensure railroads are forced to raise the bar on safety if they miss the PTC deadline – but will not and cannot be used to replace or extend the deadline.
“In conclusion, I want to extend my thanks and appreciation to this Committee for its attention and focus on achieving full PTC implementation as efficiently and quickly as possible. We look forward to working with this Committee to improve our programs and make the American rail network safer, more reliable and more efficient.”
WASHINGTON — The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) today issued a safety advisory recommending actions that passenger railroads take to prevent trains from speeding. The advisory is the latest in a series of steps FRA has taken to keep passenger railroads safe for the traveling public.
“Today the FRA is taking a smart and targeted approach to addressing a major issue involved in recent passenger rail accidents,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “Safety is our top priority at the Department, and today’s advisory is but one step we are taking to raise the bar on safety for passenger rail.”
The FRA recommends that passenger railroads immediately take the following actions to control passenger train speeds:
Identify locations where there is a reduction of more than 20 mph from the approach speed to a curve or bridge and the maximum authorized operating speed for passenger trains at that curve or bridge.
Modify Automatic Train Control (ATC) systems (if in use) to ensure compliance with speed limits.
If the railroad does not use ATC, ensure that all passenger train movements through the identified locations be made with a second qualified crew member in the cab of the controlling locomotive, or with constant communication between the locomotive engineer and an additional qualified and designated crewmember in the body of the train.
Install additional wayside signage alerting engineers and conductors of the maximum authorized passenger train speed throughout the passenger railroad’s system, with particular emphasis on additional signage at the identified locations.
“The FRA fully expects passenger railroads to take immediate action and implement these recommendations,” said Acting Federal Railroad Administrator Sarah Feinberg. “We will continue to take action in the coming weeks to prevent human error from causing accidents and to keep passengers safe on the nation’s railroads.”
To view a copy of the Safety Advisory, click here.
A chorus of lawmakers expressed frustration Tuesday with the delays in approving and implementing various regulations related to the movement of hazardous materials by rail and pipeline.
The acting chiefs of two U.S. Department of Transportation agencies heard Republicans and Democrats in the House Transportation Committee complain that rules on railroad tank cars and oil and gas pipelines had been on the table for as long as four years.
After a string of deadly train crashes, a pair of angry U.S. senators stood in New York’s Grand Central Terminal four months ago to denounce the Federal Railroad Administration as a “lawless agency, a rogue agency,” too cozy with the railroads it regulates and more interested in “cutting corners” for them than protecting the public.
Fast forward to the past two months, when photos of rail cars strewn akimbo beside tracks have rivaled mountains of snow in Boston for play in the newspapers and on television.
WASHINGTON – U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced today that Department of Transportation Chief of Staff Sarah Feinberg will serve as Acting Administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). She succeeds Joseph C. Szabo who was appointed and confirmed as the agency’s twelfth Administrator is 2009. Szabo stepped down as the agency’s head last Friday.
“Sarah has been my partner and served as my closest advisor during her tenure as Chief of Staff at the U.S. Department of Transportation. With her ability to bring clarity, focus and direction to complex challenges, she has become a proven leader within our agency,” said Secretary Anthony Foxx. “Sarah has the right mix of experience and skills to adeptly lead the FRA as it continues its important work to ensure the safe, reliable and efficient movement of people and goods.”
Feinberg becomes the second woman to lead the agency since its founding in 1966.
Since 2013 Feinberg has served as the Chief of Staff for the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), managing the agency’s ten modal departments, and spearheading the agency’s legislative, policy, and communications efforts. Feinberg provided strategic advice and counsel to the Secretary regarding operational and legislative initiatives across all modes of transportation, as well as leading the department’s efforts on its $302 billion surface transportation reauthorization plan, sent to the U.S. Congress last year.
During her time as Chief of Staff, Feinberg worked closely with Secretary Foxx and each agency in the Department to ensure that they are continuously raising the bar on safety. As Acting Administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, Feinberg will work to strengthen the culture of safety across the railroad industry.
The FRA is the Nation’s chief safety regulator for the passenger and freight rail industries. The agency has a $1.6 billion budget and employs nearly 900 people in Washington, D.C. and eight regional offices across the country. It establishes and enforces safety rules for the rail industry as well as manages a $20 billion rail investment portfolio.