An agreement has been reached between the seven Class 1 freight railroads and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regarding the installation of positive train control (PTC) antennas, but the Association of American Railroads (AAR) says the delay in developing the process has severely impeded PTC implementation and a fully operable system by the 2015 deadline is not possible.
The agreement between the FCC and the Class 1s addresses the railroads’ construction of the nearly 11,000 PTC poles before May 2013 that may not have undergone the statutorily required environmental and historic preservation review and allows the railroads to immediately start using those poles for important testing and other preparatory activities and for the ultimate provision of PTC.
The freight railroads have agreed to create a $10 million Cultural Resource Fund to provide funding directly to Tribal Nations and State Historic Preservation Offices to support cultural and historic preservation projects. A neutral third party administrator will administer the fund. Each freight railroad has also committed to training its employees on environmental and historic preservation compliance and to building working relationships with Tribal Nations.
Additionally, on May 16, 2014, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) voted to approve a Program Comment that modifies the FCC’s usual procedures for historic preservation review. The FCC said the process outlined in the Program Comment is tailored to the unique circumstances surrounding the deployment of PTC facilities and provides a mechanism for timely review by all parties.
“I am pleased that we have reached an agreement with the freight rail industry that will resolve the siting issues for one third of the PTC poles while providing substantial resources to Tribal Nations and States to support and advance historic preservation. This agreement is an acknowledgement by the freight rail industry of the importance of environmental protection and historic preservation. PTC is a transformative technology that has the power to save lives, prevent injuries, and avoid extensive property damage. It is a top priority of the commission to facilitate an efficient and timely review process that complies with the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) and the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) while expediting this important safety measure,” said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.
In response to the news of the FCC/railroad agreement, the AAR issued the following statement:
“The freight rail industry believes the resolution proposed by the Federal Communications Commission and revised by Advisory Council on Historic Preservation for how to process and review the tens of thousands of communications poles and towers needed for Positive Train Control to operate is a positive step forward. However, the fact of the matter is that development of this process has delayed PTC implementation for more than a year and put the railroads even further behind in implementing the nationwide interoperable PTC network.
Under Chairman Wheeler’s leadership, a path forward has been identified and the railroads remain committed to doing all that is required to make PTC the nationwide, interoperable safety system Congress mandated. It is important to note, however, that despite the establishment of a process for reviewing PTC poles and towers for installation, an interoperable PTC system will not be seamlessly operating coast to coast by the 2015 deadline.”