Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, has scheduled a hearing for June 10 on train control technology that will include an FCC witness, Charles Mathias, associate bureau chief of the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau.
The deployment of Positive Train Control tech, or PTC, was put in the spotlight after the fatal May 13 Amtrak accident outside Philadelphia; the derailment occurred on a stretch of rail that did not have the technology, which Congress has mandated to be in place by year's end.
"Witnesses have been requested to discuss the capabilities and limitations of train control technologies (including positive train control systems); the current status of the deployment and functionality of positive train control systems; and current challenges with on-going efforts to install, test, and certify positive train control systems by the December 31, 2015, statutory deadline," the committee said in announcing the hearing.
Only hours before the derailment last month, also in a Senate hearing, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler had talked about positive train control, saying the issue has two parts: spectrum and the placement of antennas. He said the FCC had recently eased power restrictions for commuter lines to reduce the number of poles required, and opened up and transferred spectrum, including spectrum to Amtrak in the Northeast corridor.
Wheeler also said that since he had become chairman, the FCC had instituted new procedures such that the agency was able to process more applications for placement of the poles that hold the antennas than the railroads were currently submitting. He said the FCC could now handle 2,800 requests a week, which he said the railroads could not keep pace with.
"I think we are making some real serious progress on PTC," he told the senators that day.