First of all . . Welcome to the new format of "Transportation Law Today" which has been in hiatus for few months, but the blog is back and thanks for your patience.
House Bill, H.R. 3651, the "Positive Train Control Enforcement & Implementation Act of 2015" introduced by T&I Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA), with at least 76 sponsors, finally offers a vehicle to address the looming 12/31/15 deadline for Positive Train Control implementation. The Act would extend the implementation deadline three additional years, or until 12/13/2018, with the potential for a one-time, discretionary extension of an additional 12 months if the Secretary of Transportation determines the criteria for such an extension in the Act are met.
This bill would extend the current congressionally-mandated deadline for PTC implementation, a development virtually all stakeholders recognized was necessary to prevent severe fines for noncompliant railroads by the FRA. An extension also addresses the threatened cessation of rail service by carriers of Toxic/Poisonous by Inhalation (TIH/PIH) materials, and passenger traffic over non-compliant freight rail networks whose tracks are used by Amtrak and commuter railroads.
In a related development, TIH/PIH shipper associations the American Chemistry Council, the Chlorine Institute, and the Fertilizer Institute, have filed both a lawsuit against the Class I railroads in U.S. District Court in Washington, as well as Petition for Declaratory Order before the Surface Transportation Board. Both the suit and the STB Petition seek rulings that railroads cannot embargo, or fail to transport, chemical shipments after 12/31/15 if PTC is not yet implemented, but rather, the statutory Common Carrier Obligation of 49 USC 11101 requires the railroads to transport the cars.
The statutory extension of H.R. 3651 would eliminate both the enforcement deadline, as well as the threat of embargoed chemical & passenger traffic.
At present the stakes are still high as the PTC deadline is not yet resolved, however, with the introduction of H.R. 3651, at least path to an extension finally exists.