Public policy meetings are an essential part of the legislative process in the United States. The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee oversees matters related to technology, science, consumer affairs, transportation, communications, and more (“Senate Committee,” 2018). The Committee consists of 27 members and includes seven subcommittees in specific fields of jurisdiction. Train safety is a crucial concern in the United States, where many people rely on rail transport for travel and commute (Kamga, 2015). The present paper will provide information about a recent hearing on train safety, during which the Committee discussed the implementation of positive train control technology.
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The public policy meeting on train safety aimed to discuss the issue of applying positive train control (PTC) technology, which could help in preventing accidents by stopping a train automatically. The agenda items of the meeting were the implementation process, deadlines, noncompliance with the implementation requirements, and the consequences of noncompliance for the public, organizations, and transport authorities.
A total of 18 participants attended the meeting, most of whom were from the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. Representatives of the Federal Railroad Administration, New Jersey Transit Corporation, Government Accountability Office, and Amtrak also participated in the meeting. The hearing was held in a large office, with participants seating at a rounded table and other staff and journalists seated on the sides of the room.
Each seat at the table was equipped with a microphone, which allowed participants to hear one another easily. The meeting was opened by John Thune, who is the chair of the Committee (“Train safety,” 2018). Throughout the meeting, Committee members supported the discussion of key agenda items, and witnesses provided reports on the implementation progress and issues. The meeting was concluded by John Tune after all agenda items were addressed in sufficient depth.
One of the main topics that were discussed as part of the hearing was the deadlines for implementing PTC. The Committee process for this topic began with the report by Ronald Batory, the Administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration.
He reported on the progress of national railroads with regards to PTC implementation (“Train safety,” 2018). The topic was also supported by Susan Fleming, the Director of the Government Accountability Office for physical infrastructure issues, and other witnesses who were present during the hearing. The witnesses confirmed that the established schedule was not sufficient for railroads to implement the PTC technology without service disruptions. The discussion involved potential solutions, such as defining penalties for noncompliance with deadlines and criteria for allowing extensions.
However, as was noted by Fleming, few railroads will qualify for extensions, as the criteria included at least six other requirements (“Train safety,” 2018). Thus, although railroads have achieved substantial progress already, they might not qualify for an extension due to the complex criteria. Based on this example, the Committee process involves introducing the topic, gathering information from witnesses, making suggestions, and initiating discussion of any related issues.
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Positions of the Stakeholders
The meeting involved two critical groups of stakeholders: the members of the Committee and the witnesses. The members of the Committee generally believed that deadlines should remain in place and extensions should only be awarded to railroads that meet the criteria (“Train safety,” 2018). However, some Committee members voiced their concerns with regards to penalties for noncompliance with deadlines because they feared that they would contribute to interruptions in service. The witnesses, on the other hand, mostly argued for allowing some railroads to complete the implementation by a different date due to the complex nature of the process.
The first important interaction occurred at the beginning of the meeting when witnesses were sharing their concerns regarding the deadlines for completing the project. This interaction was informative, as it provided critical data on the implementation process and the influence of constraints on railroad operations. The second significant interaction occurred at the middle of the hearing, when Scot Naparstek, the COO of Amtrak, and Cory Gardner discussed the financial issues associated with the installation of PTC technologies.
Naparstek highlighted that financial constraints contribute to the problems faced by railroads in completing the implementation by the set deadline. Gardner, on the other hand, noted that railroads received substantial federal funding that should have covered their expenses during the implementation process. This interaction highlighted the fact that processes that are technologically complex might result in increased expenditures, and thus it is more difficult to predict the exact amount of funding needed.
The meeting was initially designed to collect information on the progress of railroads all over the country in completing the project by the set deadline. This goal was achieved during the meeting, and new topics emerged as a result of the discussion. The first focus topic that was determined is funding since the witnesses highlighted that some railroads might require further financial support. The second focus topic is deadline feasibility, which was among the key issues indicated by the witnesses. Lastly, the witnesses also expressed their hopes that the Committee will consider making changes to the criteria for deadline extensions. According to Fleming, this would enable most railroads to complete the project on time without interrupting their services.
Kamga, C. (2015). Emerging travel trends, high-speed rail, and the public reinvention of US transportation. Transport Policy, 37(1), 111-120.
Train safety. (2018). Web.