President Obama Signs 3-Week Highway Bill and Railroad Safety Extension

A three-week extension of federal transportation spending and three-year extension for railroads to install positive train control was signed on Oct. 29, the date the current highway extension expired.

2 minute read

October 30, 2015, 2:00 PM PDT

By Irvin Dawid

On Wednesday, the day before the current three-month Highway Transportation Fund extension expired, the Senate passed yet another extension. 

H.R. 3819 extends authorization of the Highway Trust Fund for three weeks through Nov. 20, enabling current highway and transit spending to continue while the House works on passing the six-year Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform (STRR) Act of 2015 (H.R. 3763). The Senate already passed their long term bill known as the DRIVE Act.

The Senate vote "marked the 35th time Congress has passed such short-term fixes (since 2009)," according to Transport Topics, adding that the President signed the extension at 6:50 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 29.

Included in the Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2015 is the Positive Train Control Enforcement and Implementation Act of 2015. According to the bill text:

Extends from December 31, 2015, to December 31, 2018, the deadline for submission to DOT by each Class I railroad carrier and each entity providing regularly scheduled intercity or commuter rail passenger transportation of a revised plan for implementing a positive train control (PTC) system on certain of its tracks. 

While the transportation funding extension was a necessity, the PTC extension proved controversial. "Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said in a statement that 'after so many preventable railway tragedies that have led to the loss of life, it is an insult to the families who have lost loved ones to let the rail lobby slip a multi-year Positive Train Control delay into a three-week extension',” write Michael Laris and Ashley Halsey III for The Washington Post.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) had sought a one-year extension instead. She held up a large photograph of the crumpled wreckage of Amtrak Train 188, which derailed in Philadelphia in May, leaving eight dead in a crash that investigators said would have been prevented if PTC had been in place.

Nonetheless, the railroad industry's argument prevailed. "(L)arge freight railroads presented an economic doomsday scenario if the deadline for implementing the technology was not extended," write Laris and Halsey III. "Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said the extension was critical to avoid 'devastating' economic consequences."

On a related matter, the Senate also confirmed by voice vote Sarah Feinberg to the position of administrator at the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).

Thursday, October 29, 2015 in Transport Topics

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