News & Reviews News Wire UPDATE: Amtrak CEO says passenger trains will not run over track without PTC or PTC waiver NEWSWIRE

UPDATE: Amtrak CEO says passenger trains will not run over track without PTC or PTC waiver NEWSWIRE

By Angela Cotey | February 15, 2018

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Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson
WASHINGTON — If railroads that host Amtrak passenger trains fail to meet Congress’ statutory requirement to have positive train control installed Dec. 31, 2018, Amtrak’s president says the company will drop service on lines that don’t comply. The move would significantly disrupt passenger service on virtually every Amtrak route in the U.S.

At a House of Representatives’ Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing today, Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson testified that if any of the host railroad segments over which it operates “appear unlikely to achieve sufficient progress to apply for an alternate positive train control (implementation) schedule” by the end of 2018, “Amtrak will suspend operations until such time as the carriers become compliant with the law.”

Anderson pledged that all Amtrak locomotives will be PTC-capable by Dec. 31, but even if the Federal Railroad Administration deems a route to be eligible for an alternate implementation schedule, he asserts, “the question we must ask ourselves is whether we continue to operate over such routes until PTC is turned on and if so, what additional safety precautions are appropriate to reduce risks?”

Similarly, Anderson’s prepared testimony states, “if a train operates over routes identified by the FRA as eligible for “mainline track exclusion” (of PTC requirements) owing to light passenger traffic or lack of hazardous material freight trains, “we are currently reviewing our policy … to determine whether we have adequate safety mitigation practices in place for each territory, and in certain areas, where signal systems are not in place, we will reconsider whether we operate at all.”

At the hearing he added, “And I doubt I will.”

Especially at risk under Anderson’s edict are trains operating over tracks not owned by Class I railroads. These include lines around major cities, such as Metro-North east and north of New York City, Metra on the Hiawatha corridor, Tri-Rail and SunRail in Florida, and the Terminal Railroad Association for all trains serving St. Louis. Long distance trains running over short lines include the Cardinal on Virginia’s Buckingham Branch Railroad and the Empire Builder on the Minnesota Commercial in the Twin Cities.

Anderson made it clear he is committed to changing Amtrak’s safety culture by implementing an “airline-style” Safety Management System under the direction of Vice President and Chief Safety Officer Ken Hylander, a former associate at Delta Airlines, who is a direct report to Anderson at Amtrak.

Trains News Wire has asked Amtrak for further clarification regarding the potential impact on the network and will be following any developments as they are revealed.

Several high-ranking railroad and rail safety officials testified before Congress, in addition to Anderson. They include Juan Reyes, chief counsel for the Federal Railroad Administration; Robert Sumwalt, National Transportation Safety Board chairman; Association of American Railroad President Ed Hamberger; Paul Skoutelas, President of the American Public Transportation Association; and John Tolman, vice president of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen.

Congress required railroad lines with regular passenger service, or lines that carry 5 million gross tons annually or more, to install interoperable positive train control technologies with the Railroad Safety Improvement Act of 2008. The original deadline was Dec. 31, 2015. In 2015, Congress extended the deadline to Dec. 31, 2018, or in certain circumstances to 2020.

UPDATED: Full story and analysis. Feb. 15, 2018, 6:37 p.m. Central time.

Amtrak’s ‘Texas Eagle,’ left, pauses at St. Louis while ‘Lincoln Service’ train No. 302 heads for Chicago on June 3, 2017.
Bob Johnston

25 thoughts on “UPDATE: Amtrak CEO says passenger trains will not run over track without PTC or PTC waiver NEWSWIRE

  1. I read about this in a link to a railway mag that a friend gets, he was signal supervisor for A&S. So I hope the freight railroads can get PTC finished this year, they’ve had enough time and extensions to get it done. I know it’s a massive undertaking but it’s a safety issue too.

  2. As it is, we drive when we must because you can’t get there by train. A good example is the high amount of traffic between Texas and Colorado. It’s a long day’s drive, but at least two full days and nights by train via Chicago or three via Los Angeles. I’ll never understand why Amtrak chose to not serve that market.

  3. I can understand his sentiment after the recent wrecks Amtrak has suffered through. HOWEVER, any threat as stupid as this one is ridiculous. The Big Boys aren’t going to whine a bit if they no longer have passenger trains getting in the way and enticing passengers back to the rails after a major layoff will be close to impossible. I guess the Republicans will get their with after all, because this will be the final stake through the heart of Amtrak. The worst part of this is that I am a Republican and just despise these constant, sordid attempts to kill off our national rail service. This will put us even farther behind Europe in terms of moving our population.

  4. And he expects the railroads to object to the loss of passenger service? Oooo, is that a threat or a promise? That’s just plain dumb, or a calculated way to end the company.

  5. The following memo was prepared for the members of the state of Vermont’s Vermont Rail Advisory Council to try to put both a Vermont and a national perspective on this issue. We next meet February 28 and based on Anderson’s threats have very little time to evolve a plan that will prevent the withdrawal of all Amtrak service in Vermont January 1, 2019. As noted below we are legally exempt from the PTC requirement, could not possibly now comply (both for financial and real-world reasons) and face a terrible dilemna.

    Amtrak President Anderson’s threats to “suspend” services cut in multiple ways.

    Main Lines with Operable PTC owned by Amtrak: All assumed to be in compliance by the end of 2018 and therefore Amtrak would continue to serve these segments. But this is basically just the Boston-Washington core of the Northeast Corridor and the Dearborn, MI to Niles, IN (Detroit-Chicago) line, plus a few miles of the Empire Service in the Albany, NY area. All other Amtrak trains run on the tracks of other freight or commuter railroads.

    Main Lines with Operable PTC not owned by Amtrak: All should be fine–BUT–at present the only Class One Railroad that appears to be fully PTC ready by the end of 2018 is the BNSF system. But parts of BNSF over which Amtrak operates are PTC exempt. For example, the SW CHIEF route Chicago-Los Angeles will be compliant, except for several hundred miles (with no regular freight traffic) right in the middle of the line over Raton Pass–so this train line could end up being severed in the middle. UP, CSX, CP and NS are all working on the PTC installation issue, but some of their routes may not be ready until 2020. This was permitted under the existing law with a proper waiver. But Anderson now threatens to “suspend” Amtrak over any such segments at the end of this year. See the next section.

    Main Lines with PTC under installation–but not ready by the end of 2018: Amtrak is threatening to “Temporarily Suspend” service. This may include virtually the entire CSX and NS systems in the east, and the Canadian Pacific–which if true impacts the ETHAN ALLEN north of Schenectady to Whitehall and the ADIRONDACK–indeed it’s not entirely clear but the entire Albany-Montreal CP route may be PTC exempt, and thus potentially could fall under Anderson’s broader threat to abandon service over those portions permanently. The CSX delay situation could include all/parts of the Boston-Albany-Schenectady-Buffalo-Cleveland LAKESHORE/EMPIRE SERVICE route. The NS lines that may not be ready include the LAKESHORE route’s west end Cleveland-Chicago. The ETHAN ALLEN connects to the LAKESHORE. Another NS route that may not be fully ready is the Washington-New Orleans part of the CRESCENT line–another ETHAN ALLEN connection. Other CSX routes threatened include the Richmond-Florida “Silver” services. These are also ETHAN ALLEN connections. This is a real issue for Vermont’s train in terms of lost connecting revenue.

    Lines legally exempted from PTC–but threatened with closure by Amtrak: These of course include all Vermont trains not only within Vermont, but also Massachusetts to Springfield on the VERMONTER route and the ETHAN ALLEN at least to Whitehall and potentially to Schenectady. Also under threat in New England (but not a Vermont connection) is the DOWNEASTER service to New Hampshire and Maine. Further afield the CARDINAL/HOOSIER STATE line is at risk, as is the center of the SOUTHWEST CHIEF line as noted above. But obviously we care most about the VERMONTER and the ETHAN ALLEN EXPRESS and neither would continue if Anderson proceeds as he infers he will.

    I realize it will be challenging to oppose a safety improvement. But we know that we’ve operated safely the Vermont sponsored Amtrak trains since service began on May 1, 1995. Since that time there has been only one major accident–the October 2015 VERMONTER rock slide crash (which resulted in no deaths) and that accident would not have been stopped by PTC unless it had occurred right at a signal.

    It will be critical to focus closely on this. We’ve (with Federal grants and direct rail company funds) put over $140,000,000 into improving/rebuilding the infrastructure to support our VERMONTER service north of Springfield, MA (including the “Knowledge Corridor” Massachusetts grants) just since 2008 and many more grant dollars went into upgrading the VRS line from Whitehall,NY thru Rutland north to Burlington for the ETHAN ALLEN. To be forced to “suspend” service, despite full compliance with the PTC (exemption) regulations, and with a long history of safe operations, would be ridiculous.

    Amtrak is over-reacting to an awful sequence of events whose close proximity seems to have produced a far too strong reaction from them. Only the December 18, 2017 Dupont, WA wreck of CASCADES TALGO train 501 (which cost the lives of my friends Jim Hamre and Zack Willhoite) was a result of an Amtrak employee error. Even PTC would have had no effect on the Virginia/GOP train incident–which resulted from a truck on the tracks at a gated crossing. No system designed by man is perfect. Even with PTC employee training and conduct and proper maintenance and dispatching will remain the critical components of a true “safety culture”.

    The PTC regulations correctly exempted low volume routes from coverage. Vermont and its freight railroad operating partners, complied fully with Federal regulations still in effect in properly obtaining exemption from PTC on our lines. Amtrak is effectively proposing to penalize us for non-compliance with a standard that not apply to our routes. This is grossly unfair. The perfect here is clearly the enemy of the possible. Would we close I 89 because a bus might rear end a car?

    Congressman Pete DeFazio (with some Republican support) is trying to get another $2,500,000,000 for PTC. Obviously this new funding is uncertain as to its outcome. But surely we should be encouraging our delegation to push for this if we are to face an after the fact demand to install PTC. This is the least they can do.

    And we need Congressional support to stop Amtrak from “temporarily suspending” all services in Vermont. These are trains which Amtrak knows that once gone will never return. No one can truly believe that if train service (particularly in a rural region) is suspended for several years, that funds will not be reallocated in the interim in such a way that operations would ever be likely to resume. And such a suspension is unneeded if existing safety procedures are properly observed–as they most certainly have been on the Vermont train routes.

    I appreciate and strongly applaud VTRANs for seeking more information, but respectfully submit that we have only until the end of this year under Anderson’s timetable to take whatever actions are needed. We need a strategy and service plan now.

    Carl Fowler


    Vermont Rail Advisory Council

    Rail Passenger Association (NARP) Council Member for Vermont

  6. Mike Lustig you’re absolutely right. I guess Wick really doesn’t like Amtrak after all. The dismantling of Amtrak has begun in earnest.

  7. Wick Moorman did a disservice to Amtrak and it’s passengers by selecting Richard Anderson as Amtrak’s president. Bill Crosbie who was David Gunn’s right hand man while Gunn was president.

    Mr. Anderson needs to be dealt out of the game and bring someone in like Crosbie. By the way, Joe Boardman fired Crosbie because his position VP OPS was no longer needed. Boardman then hires his crony d j stattler to be VP OPS.

    Mike Lustig

  8. Writes M. E. Singer: “. . . While at it, given Anderson’s extensive background in commercial airlines, he missed the opportunity to use his credibility to remind Congress how it funded the installation-and maintenance to this day-of the Air Traffic Control System-to the benefit of commercial airlines. Ideally, acknowledging such a relevant fact would awaken those willing to continue to be oblivious to the uneven modal funding perpetrated by Congress.”

    Exactly right. The disparity between Federal government infrastructure funding for airlines and highways, versus railroads, has a great deal to do with the decline of passenger railroading in the United States. Yes, cars are more convenient for short hauls, and planes are way faster for long ones, but the NE Corridor alone shows that there is a market for fast, medium-distance intercity passenger service.

    Everyone complains about the superiority of European and Asian rail service, but few are willing to bite the financial bullet and equalize the Federal funding for the different transportation modes. Put this way, I think even fiscal conservatives (I am one) could be convinced. Write your congressman.

    /L. E. Joiner (

  9. Gerard, CSX is dual-equipped for ACSES in New England. Amtrak is installing I-ETMS on the portions of the WAS-NY corridor over which CSX, NS, CR, etc. operate at their (not Amtrak’s) expense, so that they will not have to dual-equip their locos.
    More to Anderson’s comments: While Septa is making excellent progress at installing PTC (ACSES) on their lines and will likely meet the 12/18 deadline, NJT and MARC are well behind in their installations. Will Amtrak not let them operate on the corridor after 12/31? Think about that one!

  10. Don Oltmann: There are indeed freight locomotives ACSES equipped – those of the Providence and Worcester and CSX which operate over the ex-New Haven Shore Line portion of the NEC. There’s a caption on page 27 of November 2014 Trains seems to imply that NS engines operating on the NEC are also ACSES compliant. If this is not the case, then perhaps, the question should be why Amtrak requires it on one section of the corridor and not the other.

  11. It was a response to the Amtrak-CSX collision in what R. Anderson is saying that Amtrak will not operate over track in Manual Block with track Warrants against switches which are not electrically controlled. This affects, partial examples, Vermonter, Ethan Allen Express and Southwest Chief that is exempt from PTC account no freight. But the fix can be very much cheaper than adding PTC on these sections. All the switches on these non-PTC sections can receive Talking Switch Radios. The approaching Amtrak train can program a radio call to the switch and receive a reply of the switch position. OR: New two light Distance Switch Position Indicator Signals can be installed about a mile in advance of each switch and that would provide the electronic protection in equal to what the PTC will provide. It is still Manual Block of one train on clear block at a time but you prevent a train crashing into a siding.

  12. Amtrak continues to act shortsighted in the political arena, beyond holding harmless the Class 1s from liability for their own culpability contributing to derailments, wrecks, injuries, deaths, property damage, and business interruptions.

    Why did Amtrak not take the opportunity when before Congress to request a fiscal “patch” for the financial problem Congress created when issuing the unfunded mandate for PTC? This would have certainly enamored Amtrak more with the Class 1s than issuing such a vague, pathetic threat of not operating passenger trains over freight ROW after 31 December 2018. AAR and their lobbyists must have taken over the bar at The Occidental near Capitol Hill after that statement!

    While at it, given Anderson’s extensive background in commercial airlines, he missed the opportunity to use his credibility to remind Congress how it funded the installation-and maintenance to this day-of the Air Traffic Control System-to the benefit of commercial airlines. Ideally, acknowledging such a relevant fact would awaken those willing to continue to be oblivious to the uneven modal funding perpetrated by Congress.

  13. Steve Sweeney said, “Also, PTC is required for any track with regularly scheduled passenger service.”

    OK. Then why aren’t New England Central and Pam Am (and others) shown in this report from the FRA?

    This is an ongoing, periodic report on PTC installations with these shortlines not shown. Surely, if they had to have PTC (as they handle passenger trains), they would be included. This report suggests that they have waivers and that they’re not required to install PTC. Please clarify.

  14. I agree with those who feel this is a gift to the freight railroads. Just pass out enough campaign money to selected members of Congress to get a delay in implementation of PTC and there goes Amtrak. Wick Moorman apparently didn’t do a good job of explaining the details of railroad operations.

  15. Don Oltman: Not correct. Richard Anderson very clearly said that Amtrak will consider whether it will operate after Dec. 31 in PTC mandated areas with waivers or exempted areas. And he told Congress: “And I doubt I will.” Also, PTC is required for any track with regularly scheduled passenger service. I believe Anderson misspoke when he added the exempted area qualifier.

    For a few more facts on PTC, try the piece I wrote in 2014:


    It appears there are exemptions. I suspect Amtrak will operate over roads with exemptions. What Anderson is saying is that they won’t run in PTC territory without PTC unless there is a waiver from the FRA.

    So, let’s say the Class 1s can’t get the radio traffic in Chicago sorted out by the deadline and ask for a waiver for a year to get things fixed, Amtrak will still run the LSL into Union Station even though the last few miles aren’t under PTC.

    This is much ado about very little…

  17. Carl Fowler – Unless things have changed over the past couple years, I don’t think there are any segments where Amtrak runs that are exempt from having PTC installed.

  18. SHEEESH! Amtrak’s president opens the door to it demise! Wonder how long it takes the railroads to put the harpoon into this ‘white whale’?

  19. It is about time that the Amtrak board of directors select a new CEO. Mr. Anderson doesn’t understand railroading and apparently never will.

  20. So if the railroads want to get Amtrak off their tracks, all they have to do is not install PTC? This was not the right thing to say. Also, discontinuance is not the answer. PTC can’t come soon enough, but Amtrak without PTC is still far safer than the interstate, which is where most passengers will end up if a train is discontinued.

    I do think the CEO is probably right to try an implement an airline safety culture. The safety record of the airlines is impressive.

  21. Ian Narita: That was my first thought in reading the article. Finally a way for freight railroads to get passenger trains out of their hair: just delay PTC on key route segments until Amtrak stops running the entire route. As with the Railway Mail Service in the 1950s and 60s, once a few key links in the mail network were lost, the whole thing crumbled and took the passenger trains themselves with it. Clever! Wonder what Mr. Anderson’s career plans are after 1/1/2019?

  22. Here is the latest PTC report from the FRA:

    Another Amtrak route without PTC is that for Downeaster trains on Pan Am, although the route is signaled, at least south/west of Portland.

    Montana Rail Link isn’t installing any, yet they run about 20 trains daily on average, many of them heavy coal and grain trains, and some of them unit crude oil trains. They don’t have any passenger trains, but one would think the tonnage and type of commodity constitute a requirement for PTC. Montana Rail Link isn’t a a class I railroad, but the amount of traffic has got to be as much as segments on Class I lines. I’m curious exactly what criteria needs to be in place for installing PTC – or not, as the case may be.

  23. After re reading the above, I am not sure what he is saying,and what this means. If a segment is exempt, does Anderson mean they will not run until, if or when PTC is installed? What about other train control technology? If the law does not apply, will he still run over that section? More likely, this may be a way to get more money, by creating a crisis of confidence. The NTSB report is still in the future.

  24. GERALD McF — FYI Gerald Anderson led Northwest before he led Delta, the successor airline. There’s a plaque honoring him (and NWA) at Detroit Metro Airport’s Delta terminal originally built for Northwest. This was where I changed planes on my first (and hopefully my last) trip on Delta, though I’d previously flown predecessors Northwest, North Central, Northeast, and Republic numerous times. GARY SAMPLE (and others) does anyone know if Canadian National is signalized between West Detroit/ Bay City Junction and Milwaukee Junction (both in Detroit)? This segment is about 4 miles long and includes the Amtrak station at Woodward Avenue in the New Center. Seems to run pretty slowly. For freight railway watchers, this is the only remaining crosstown route after the closing of the Detroit Terminal Railroad. There are parallel tracks for Canadian National (former Grand Trunk Western) and Conrail (former Michigan Central/ New York Central). I’m not sure which Amtrak tracks uses – maybe parts of both railroads.

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