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Year-end deadline for railroads threatens agricultural shipments

By Staff | Sep 26, 2015

WASHINGTON (ASA) – Rail service and ag shipments could soon come to a halt if Congress fails to extend safety deadlines.

The Class I railroads, which are the seven largest rail companies in the country, are required by Jan. 1, 2016 to fully implement Positive Train Control, which is a technology to remotely monitor and control train movements.

All of the Class I railroads have indicated that they are unable to meet this deadline, and if Congress does not extend the deadline, the railroads may cease shipments of anhydrous ammonia and possibly all grain shipments due to liability issues.

The Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 mandated the installation of PTC across most Class I rail lines by the end of 2015, including lines carrying 5 million or more gross tons every year, lines that handle any poisonous, inhalation-hazardous materials, or any lines with “regularly scheduled intercity passenger or commuter rail services.”

The railroads and industry stakeholders are urging Congress to extend the Jan. 1 deadline; however, there is no indication yet on when or through what legislative vehicle Congress would be able to pass an extension.

There are some members of Congress who want to investigate the progress the railroads have made on PTC implementation and what the appropriate duration should be, before they agree to an extension. They want to keep the pressure on the railroads to accelerate implementation as much as possible.

The issue could be addressed in a long-term highway bill that is expected to be considered this fall, but stakeholders are concerned that the highway bill will carry into December or even into 2016.

Some of the “must pass” legislative vehicles that could be an option to carry a PTC extension would be a Continuing Resolution to keep government agencies funded or a short-term extension of the highway bill.

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