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Home arrowNews arrowMay 19, 2014

ACHP Issues Program Comment for Positive Train Control Wayside Poles and Infrastructure
May 16, 2014 - The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) has issued a Program Comment, pursuant to 36 CFR 800.14(e), to tailor the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) review, under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, of undertakings involving the construction of Positive Train Control (PTC) wayside poles and infrastructure.

The need for this Program Comment is related to the congressional enactment of the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-432) (RSIA) on October 16, 2008, which requires freight and passenger railroads to deploy interoperable PTC systems by December 31, 2015. RSIA requires PTC system implementation on all Class 1 railroad lines that carry poison- or toxic-by-inhalation hazardous materials and five million gross tons or more of annual traffic, and on any railroad’s main line tracks over which intercity or commuter rail passenger train service is regularly provided. The passage of RSIA was in response to a tragic railroad accident that occurred in Chatsworth, California, on September 12, 2008, killing 25 and injuring 100 persons. While this accident gained a high level of public attention, other railroad accidents have continued to occur. The Federal Railroad Administration documented in its annual report issued in 2011 that an average of 2,000 derailments and 205 train collisions occurred annually from 1998 to 2009, excluding accidents at highway-rail crossings.

PTC systems generally use radio signals between trains and a land-based network to prevent certain railroad accidents. When operating, PTC systems will be capable of controlling or stopping a train when a train operator is unavailable or unresponsive and action is required to avoid a derailment, incursion into a work zone, certain train-to-train collisions, or movement through a switch left in the wrong position. Wayside poles are the vertical structures that will be used to support fixed wireless antennas within the existing railroad right of way alongside existing tracks. The antennas are used to support the wireless flow of information needed for the operation of PTC. Wayside infrastructure refers to the wayside pole associated equipment cabinets and other supporting infrastructure. Approximately 30,000 wayside poles will be required nationwide, of which at least 10,000 poles have already been installed.

Various factors, including the public safety purpose of PTC, the approaching December 2015 mandatory deadline, and the sheer number of poles and infrastructure needed, affirmed the need to tailor the Section 106 review of PTC wayside poles and infrastructure as provided by this Program Comment.

Among other things, the Program Comment provides clearer exclusions, points to the need for using the FCC Tower Construction Notification System to ensure Indian tribes are appropriately included in consultation, provides direction regarding how and when monitoring may be carried out, and establishes more definitive review timeframes.

On May 16, 2014, the ACHP voted to issue the Program Comment. It went into effect that day. A copy of the issued Program Comment can be found here.

Please address all questions concerning the development of this Program Comment to ACHP: Assistant Director Office of Federal Agency Programs, Charlene Dwin Vaughn, AICP at (202) 606-8533 or Questions regarding the implementation of the Program Comment should be referred to the FCC: Steve DelSordo, Federal Preservation Officer of the FCC Wireless Telecommunications Bureau at (202) 418-1986 or


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