News & Publications

Rail Law Alert No. 15

FCC, Advisory Commission on Historic Preservation, Class I Railroads Resolve Environmental and Historic Review Issues Regarding PTC Infrastructure

This Alert provides notice of two significant developments to resolve issues relating to the environmental and historic preservation review of the anticipated impacts of various positive train control (PTC) facilities, including wayside poles and base stations.  Pursuant to the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, freight and passenger railroads are required to implement PTC, which is a system designed to prevent various railroad accidents such as train-to-train collisions and derailments caused by excessive speeds.  Because the PTC facilities installed along the railroads’ right-of-way will support antennas that will use radio spectrum licensed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), installation of that infrastructure constitutes an FCC undertaking requiring compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act.

  • On May 19, the FCC and the seven Class I freight railroads reached agreements that will discharge the railroads from all environmental and historic review requirements for the nearly 11,000 PTC poles constructed along railroad right-of-way before May 31, 2013.As a result, the railroads may immediately start using these facilities for testing and other activities in preparation for PTC implementation.
  • In addition, on May 16, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation approved a modification to the FCC’s usual procedures that will provide a more systematic and streamlined historic preservation review process for PTC facilities while also complying with statutory historic review requirements. FCC will issue additional guidance by June 6, 2014, to clarify the number of poles and the geographic area that can be encompassed in any single project submission.

The agreements between the FCC and the Class I railroads, as well as the modified procedures for historic review of PTC infrastructure, appear to remove significant obstacles for Class I railroads seeking to meet the December 31, 2015, deadline for PTC implementation.