PTC Foot-Dragging by the Freights

There’s a lot of concern out there for the future of Amtrak’s national network. Whether by benign neglect or a deliberate act of murder, a lot of people—many of them supposedly “in the know”—think that Amtrak’s national network has been targeted for extinction.
For one thing, the Trump Administration wants to end Amtrak’s federal subsidy and, miserly though it may be, without financial support from Congress, the national network could not survive for long.
As if that isn’t enough, Amtrak’s CEO Richard Anderson has told Congress that he will consider shutting down individual long-distance trains at the end of this year if the host railroads haven’t completed the installation of Positive Train Control along those specific routes.
I confess I don’t understand Anderson’s strategy in making that threat because the freight railroads would shed no tears if Amtrak’s national network were to shut down.
In his recent audio forum for members, Rail Passengers Association President and CEO Jim Mathews spoke briefly on the progress being made by the freight railroads regarding PTC. With information gleaned from government sources, Mathews noted that when it comes to the installation of PTC away from the yards and out on the main lines, two of the Class 1 railroads in particular appear to be dragging their feet: Norfolk Southern and—why are we not surprised?—CSX.

 Part of the problem, as I’ve noted in previous posts, is that the PTC system is expensive and, while Congress may have mandated it, they didn’t come up with any money to help railroads pay for it.
In truth, it’s not at all certain that Amtrak will actually stop operating long-distance trains if the host railroads have not finished installing PTC by the end of the year. Anderson could simply impose speed restrictions on trains operating in those sectors. That, of course, would create a whole new set of problems for Amtrak, including schedule changes and many connections that could no longer be guaranteed.
Best guess: most PTC installation will be completed by December 31st and few if any Amtrak routes will be affected.

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