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Change to US railroad safety rules following collision


U.S. scales back railroad safety rules
By Stuart Silverstein, Fair Warningdailynews.com at : http://www.contracostatimes.com/california/ci_20598367/u-s-scales-back-railroad-safety-rules
May 11, 2012 4:2 AM GMTUpdated:   05/10/2012 09:01:30 PM PDT

The Obama administration announced Thursday that it will scale back federal rail safety rules spurred by the Chatsworth train collision in 2008 that killed 25 people and hurt 135 others.

The administration said it will slash by 10,000 miles the amount of railroad track that needs to be covered by systems that can override human error and automatically put the brakes on trains about to collide or derail.

Known as Positive Train Control, or PTC, the high-tech systems previously were projected to cover an estimated 70,000 miles of track used by trains carrying passengers or extremely hazardous materials such as chlorine. The safeguards are due to be installed by the end of 2015 under legislation passed by Congress in response to the deadly head-on train crash in Chatsworth.

The administration said the exemption would apply only to track that will not be used to carry passengers or the most dangerous cargo. The rollback - which had been expected and was one of a package of regulatory breaks for business that the Obama administration announced Thursday - was spurred by a legal challenge by the Association of American Railroads, which represents freight haulers and Amtrak.

In a separate move to scale back PTC requirements, the railroads association and other industry lobbyists have backed calls by congressional Republicans to postpone the PTC deadline for up to five years. A more modest change that would allow Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood

to approve deadline extensions on a case-by-case basis until the end of 2018 is currently before a congressional conference committee.
Thursday's action followed industry complaints that the Transportation Department was imposing "a staggering and unjustified burden" that went beyond the intent of Congress. The industry also argued that regulators wrongly tried to require railroads to put PTC on track that, by the end of 2015, no longer will be used to haul chlorine or other extremely hazardous materials.

To settle the litigation, the Transportation Department last August announced a plan to reduce the amount of track required to have PTC. Thursday's announcement made this final.

LaHood, in a news release, portrayed the decision as "ensuring the safety of our nation's railroads while reducing regulatory barriers," and in keeping with President Obama's executive order to cut unnecessary regulation.

Over 20 years, the Transportation Department said, the regulatory change will save railroads up to $775 million, reducing the overall cost of installing and operating PTC over that period to about $12.3 billion.

U.S. Rep. Grace F. Napolitano, a California Democrat who has opposed calls in the House for an across-the-board delay in PTC, said the regulations "will help protect us from future accidents while granting a reasonable level of flexibility for the railroads and the Department of Transportation."

Metrolink, operator of the commuter train that was involved in the head-on collision with a freight train in the deadly 2008 California accident, has become a leading advocate of PTC. It said Thursday that its plan to cover its full 512-mile system with PTC by mid-2013, well ahead of the deadline, will not be affected by Thursday's news.


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