Recent Op-Eds

With limited options to efficiently ship materials such as fertilizer, ethanol, or corn and soybeans, railroads play an absolutely critical link to South Dakota’s agricultural sector. Thankfully, now that legislation averting an end-of-year railroad service shutdown has been signed into law, farmers, ranchers, businesses, shippers, and municipalities can breathe a sigh of relief. For lawmakers, regulators, and railroads, there is still much work to be done in order to fully implement positive train control (PTC) technology that will make passenger and freight railroads even safer in the coming years.

PTC technology can prevent certain accidents that involve train-on-train collisions and excessive speeds that are caused by operator error. With a new, more achievable deadline, full implementation of this complex rail safety technology will keep the pressure on each freight and passenger railroad to finish the job.

As the chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, which has jurisdiction over railroads, I worked with my colleagues in the House and Senate to forge this agreement based on bipartisan legislation that I authored and the Senate passed this summer. Had Congress failed to extend the PTC deadline, customers who depend on railroads would have been hit the hardest. This is especially true in agricultural states like ours that are so dependent on safe and efficient modes of transportation like rail.

In recent weeks, many railroads were preparing to deny traffic because they had no choice due to conflicting federal safety requirements. Just imagine what farmers and grain elevators across the state would have done if they couldn’t move any of their corn, wheat, soybeans, or ethanol because of a rail service shutdown.

Although widespread use of PTC on 20,000 locomotives covering over 60,000 miles of rail track has not yet been achieved, railroads are making progress in finishing a system that can change a rail accident into a prevented incident. Even with the economic disaster of a railroad shutdown averted, we must not lose sight of finishing full implementation as soon as possible. I am confident the legislation that the House and Senate passed by voice vote will provide the U.S. Department of Transportation with the necessary oversight and transparency so the public and Congress can ensure that these important safety improvements are made.