Environment | National

Tribes take role in major railroad safety upgrades across nation





Tribes across the nation are taking part in a major railroad safety project that will impact Americans everywhere.

Positive Train Control (PTC) is a massive project to install upgrades along 60,000 miles of railroad tracks. Tribes will be involved in the deployment of about 20,000 telecommunication poles and wayside structures across the U.S.

“This is the dawn of a new era in the relationship between Indian tribes and the railroads,” stated D. Bambi Kraus, the president of the National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers, said in a press release. “There are many challenges ahead, but for the first time in 150 years, Indian tribes and Tribal Historic Preservation Officers will be working together with the railroads to accomplish the shared goal of making the railways safer, without sacrificing the tribal history that is located along those same tracks.”

Some rail companies installed PTC equipment prematurely so the Federal Communications Commission negotiated a settlement to address environmental and historic preservation issues. As a result, tribes are eligible to receive grants from a $10 million Cultural Resource Fund that was created by the industry.

"For the past 10 years, the FCC has worked with Indian tribes on a government-to-government basis to put into place important baseline processes,” said Robert Cast, the tribal historic preservation officer for the Caddo Nation of Oklahoma. “The hard work in those early years – between Indian tribes and the FCC – have served us well and will continue serving us as we head into this next phase of PTC deployment."

The involvement of tribes is crucial to protect sacred, cultural, historic and archaeological sites along railroad tracks. The PTC system, along with the existing Tower Construction Notification System, also ensures the safety of reservation residents.

The Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 requires freight and passenger railroads to deploy Positive Train Control systems to prevent certain railroad accidents. The law sets a December 2015 deadline but the rail industry is asking Congress for an extension.