Congress' recent short-term extension for installing federally mandated GPS features on trains to prevent accidents will have little to no impact on Arizona since the technology is already in place throughout most of the state.
The deadline for states to implement positive train control, or PTC, was moved late last week from the end of 2015 to the end of 2018. The Arizona Corporation Commission’s Railroad Safety Division Supervisor Brian Lehman said PTC is already functional in the state, with 500 out of 600 miles of Burlington Northern/Santa Fe track currently outfitted with the GPS device in northern Arizona.
Lehman acknowledged that some tracks in the southern part of the state still await updating, specifically the line between Williams and Phoenix, and the lines used by Union Pacific.
“As far as safety is concerned, we would like to see the most advanced system up and running,” Lehman said. “We are not surprised by the extension, though, because of the high price tag for the railroads.”
Fortunately, Arizona has witnessed few major rail accidents. The last major event was a 1995 Amtrak derailment that took one person’s life and was found to have been caused by sabotage rather than system failure. The commission’s federal safety ranking is in the top third with the Federal Railroad Administration.
Lehman pointed out that while PTC is a solid investment, it does not substitute for thorough inspection.
“The railroads in Arizona are very safe,” he said. “We work very closely with the railroad companies to ensure they understand what they need to do to be in compliance. I think our strength really lies in our education program focusing on what needs to be done before a violation occurs.”
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