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DeFazio Statement for Hearing on Oversight of Positive Train Control

Feb 15, 2018
Press Release

DeFazio Statement for Hearing on Oversight of Positive Train Control

In case you missed it, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure delivered the following remarks at the February 15, 2018 hearing on Oversight of Positive Train Control Implementation in the United States.

Delivered remarks can be found here.

Remarks as prepared for delivery are below.


Statement of

The Honorable Peter DeFazio

Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure

Full committee Hearing on

Oversight of Positive Train Control Implementation in the United States”

February 15, 2018


In 2005, a Norfolk Southern freight train transporting chlorine in Graniteville, South Carolina, was diverted onto an adjacent track where it hit a parked train near a textile manufacturing plant. Chlorine gas engulfed the area. Nine people were killed, including six workers at the plant and a nearby resident. More than 500 people were injured; 5,400 others within a one-mile radius of the derailment site were evacuated for days. The accident was preventable with Positive Train Control (PTC) and this Committee held a hearing on it in 2007, just prior to passing a bipartisan bill to mandate PTC implementation.

The Graniteville accident is eerily similar to the one that just occurred in Cayce, South Carolina. The switch was left in the wrong position. The Amtrak train was diverted onto the wrong track, and hit a parked CSX freight train, killing the two Amtrak crewmembers and injuring dozens of others. In both cases, there were no signals indicating the switch position or instructing the train crew to take certain actions. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) confirmed once again that it was preventable—with PTC.

So was the Amtrak accident in DuPont, Washington, on December 18, 2017. It was the inaugural run on a new route, and PTC should have been installed and made fully operational before the first train departed the station. That’s why, shortly thereafter, I introduced legislation (H.R. 4677) that would prevent new commuter or intercity passenger rail service unless PTC is up and running.

What happened in DuPont is not new. The train entered a 30 miles-per-hour (mph) curve going 80 mph. The 2015 Amtrak accident in Philadelphia: 106 mph into a 50-mph curve. The 2013 Metro North accident in the Bronx: 80 mph into a 30-mph curve.

For 50 years—50 years—the NTSB has issued one recommendation after another for the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to require and the railroads to implement PTC. Those recommendations fell on deaf ears so Congress took action. Over those 50 years, the NTSB has investigated 153 accidents that were preventable with PTC. These accidents resulted in 301 fatalities and more than 6,700 injuries. PTC remains on the NTSB’s Most Wanted List of Safety Improvements.

The last hearing we had on PTC was in 2015. It has been three years and far too long since we checked in on the railroads’ progress toward implementing PTC. We should not have to wait to hold a hearing until tragedies occur. The last rail safety hearing to cover more than PTC was in 2014, yet we have a rail safety law that goes back to 2008 that the FRA has not fully implemented.

Today, I hope we will hear reports of the great progress that the railroads have made on PTC.

Inevitably, when we have a hearing like this, some Member or witness will talk at length about the costs of new safety technologies and the limited amount of time that the industry has had to implement it. What we do not talk enough about is the human cost, the lives that were lost, and the families who faced Valentine’s Day yesterday without their loved ones.

Without a doubt, some freight and commuter railroads embraced PTC early on and have made tremendous progress in implementing it. I want to congratulate all of those who will meet the December 31, 2018 deadline for their hard work.

Other railroads are close. Some are not as far along, while others have barely made any progress. In fact, some of the commuter railroads are so far behind that they may not even qualify for an extension to 2020 because they have failed to meet the basic requirements for an extension in the law. I think they should be held accountable with fines and penalties.

When I agreed to a possible extension beyond the 2018 deadline, I made clear that it was intended for a few railroads that could not make it, not everyone. Yet, now it seems that almost everyone will be asking for that extension. Some commuter railroads have even inquired about whether there is an appetite to extend PTC beyond 2020. Let me be very clear: No. We are not extending PTC again. Lives are at stake.

PTC is complex. I recognize that. But you have not had only 10 years to implement it; you’ve had decades. The NTSB’s first recommendation was issued in 1969, one year after Neil Armstrong took his small step on the moon and eight years after President Kennedy issued the challenge to land a man on the moon, “returning him safely to the earth.”

In that same time period, the aviation industry has embraced numerous safety technologies, including traffic collision avoidance systems. We have drones inspecting railroad track and bridges, and we are on the verge of cars and trucks driving themselves. Certainly, we can implement PTC.

If you need us to help with funding or anything else, now is the time to have that discussion. I introduced H.R. 4677, which provides $2.6 billion in grants to commuter railroads and Amtrak to help implement PTC. If we move an infrastructure plan, that should be part of it.

On December 28, 2017, I sent a letter to Secretary Chao urging the Administration to include grant funding in their Infrastructure Plan. The letter also raised concerns about the railroads’ lack of progress in implementing PTC. The response was: “Safety is the highest priority for the Department of Transportation.”

Given this priority, I would love to know how the Department justifies its FY 2019 budget that cuts funding for the FRA’s oversight and enforcement of PTC by 50 percent ($6 million down to $3 million). I wish I could say that is the only area they are cutting. The FRA’s safety and operations account was cut by 30 percent. That includes a 37 percent cut to the automated track inspection program, which seems shortsighted given that track defects are the second leading cause of all train accidents. A crude-by-rail accident occurred not too long ago near the Columbia River Gorge and the cause was a track defect. These cuts are dangerous and I intend to fight them.

With that, I would like to thank the witnesses for being here today.  I look forward to hearing their testimony.