Transportation

Amtrak Will Pull Routes if Train Controls Are Not Operational in 2018

CEO Richard Anderson told a congressional committee that the national passenger railway would suspend routes along freight and commuter tracks unless the track owners installed Positive Train Controls.

by Mike Lindblom, The Seattle Times / February 16, 2018
Emergency crews respond after an Amtrak train derailed and fell off of a bridge and onto Interstate 5 near Mounts Road between Lakewood and Olympia, Wash., on December 18, 2017. Amtrak announced it will stop running trains on some U.S. tracks if they don't have satellite-based train-control systems operating by the end of this year. (Bettina Hansen/Seattle Times/TNS) TNS

(TNS) — Amtrak will stop running trains on some U.S. tracks if they don’t have satellite-based train-control systems operating by the end of this year, CEO Richard Anderson told a congressional committee Thursday.

The national passenger railway, which operates mostly on freight or commuter tracks owned by others, is likely to confront situations where Positive Train Control won’t be ready.

“For these, Amtrak will suspend operations,” said Anderson, who took his position Jan. 1 after an airline-industry career.

Service is unlikely to be canceled in the Northwest, where Anderson has said in official letters that PTC is being tested to launch this year. Southern California will also be ready, he told the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

The hearing was sparked by the Dec. 18 derailment near DuPont, Pierce County, Wash., that killed three passengers and injured more than 70 aboard Amtrak Cascades 501. An engineer didn’t slow the locomotive, which entered a 30-mph curve at 78 mph, and sent railcars flying onto Interstate 5.

PTC would have prevented that crash, said the National Transportation Safety Board, which since 1968 has called on the rail industry to install the technology.

Congress in 2008 called on railroads to install the system by 2015, then extended the deadline to 2018, and some railroads say they need until 2020. Amtrak collaborates with at least 15 different networks among various track owners.

House Democrats, with some GOP support, have proposed $2.5 billion in loans and grants to help railroads meet the deadline. Railroads already were loaned $2.3 billion, committee members said.

PTC should be 100 percent installed nationwide by year’s end, but it won’t be ready to operate on about 20 percent of the corridors, said Edward Hamberger, president of the American Association of Railroads.

Anderson said Amtrak would eliminate services rather than operate unsafely.

The administration’s budget would slice federal subsidies in half, though President Donald Trump this week also challenged Congress to make a counterproposal.

Over the past 47 years, Anderson said, “Amtrak has operated basically as a freight railroad carrying passengers, rather than a world-class passenger-rail agency.” Safety standards should be higher for passenger lines, he said.

©2018 The Seattle Times Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.