Most of you my age or older (if such a a thing is even possible) grapple with, worry about, dread those moments of short-term memory loss...like what's my nephew's name again? Where did I put my shoes? And my personal favorite, "I owe how much?"
But being who I am, I worry about something different. I worry about my moments of not-memory-loss. I worry about remembering things when the press reports on people, places, things, issues; quoting those people, in those high places, saying those things, about issues which are an 180 degree flip from what those people said about those issues, just a short time ago.
Today, July 24, 2015 the New York Times published the story "Senate to Debate 3-Year Delay for Rail Safety System," the system being, of course, PTC, positive train control. The article reports that "Lawmakers from the Northeast and train safety experts expressed outrage over the provision..." which of course is the cue for my personal favorite senatorial package, the Schumenthal, to weigh in with its important insight. According to the newspaper:
"It should be done immediately. There shouldn't be an extension," said Senator Chuck Schumer...."they should stick with 2015."
Senator Richard Blumenthal...said he was "deeply disturbed about yet another delay in a potential safety measure" until December 2018 and said the provision in the transportation bill "essentially makes the deadline a mirage."
And that's when my short-term memory non-loss kicked in because I swear I remember the Schumenthal sponsoring, or co-sponsoring a bill (depending upon whether or not you regard them as a single entity) that did exactly that-- extend the deadline from December 31, 2015 to 2018.
So I went to Senator Blumenthal's website (they maintain separate websites) and I discovered a press release dated March 26, 2015, in which the senator expressed his opposition to extending the deadline for PTC implementation:
"This lengthy delay is dangerously lenient and and fails to address major railroad safety issues."
Sounds pretty definitive, no? So maybe I'm wrong, and not only can I not remember things I should, I'm remembering things that don't exist? So I went to the Schumer side of our linked senators, and I found this:
"Schumer, Blumenthal Announce Legislation That Will Require Railroad to Implement PTC by 2018 & Require Status Reports on Progress; 'Positive Train Control Safety Act' Also Requires Trains Carrying Crude Oil to Run on Tracks with PTC, Aiming to avoid Future Explosive Crashes."
There! I knew I read it somewhere. Maybe the Schumenthal is suffering from short-term memory loss? Maybe it wants to withdraw its sponsorship from the bill it claimed to introduce into Congress?
You know what? I don't care. Nobody cares. Here's the deal: The Class 1s and the overwhelming majority of passenger and commuter lines are not going to meet the December 31, 2015. That's what matters.
What happens after 1201 AM on January 1, 2016? Besides the projectile vomiting?
What do commuter railroads do, the non-compliant railroads, violating federal law, each with 12,000 to 15,000 passengers who came into town when the railroads were legal?
What is the legal liability if FRA allows railroads to provide service while assessing fines, if Congress has not acted to extend the date, and a PTC preventable accident occurs? And I'll note for good measure, and the enlightenment of the Schumenthal none of the crude-by-rail incidents including Lac Megantic have been shown to be PTC preventable.
What do the freight railroads do with the Amtrak trains that are schedule to run? Or with the 30,000 car loads of hazardous materials that are transported each week, and are somewhere between the initial terminal and the final delivery?
What happens? Well, we could have the safest railroads in the world, simply by supending service, right? "All signals are red, all trains are stopped"? Sounds terrible to me.
For at least 3 years, Congress has tried to wash its hands of the responsibility entailed in the RSIA 2008, which is to say to follow up. You can delegate at lot of things in this world, but you cannot delegate your responsibility for the plan you have mandated, and the responsibility to follow up on the quality of the execution.
Now where are my shoes?
July 24, 2015