President Barack Obama signed a bill last year extending the deadline to the end of 2018 and allowing railroads the option of requesting another extension of up to two years to complete testing and installing gear.
But the bill also requires that each new extension request be approved by the secretary of transportation and requires the railroads to submit a completed PTC plan for doing the work by Dec. 31, 2018.
The Federal Railroad Administration had requested that provision to prevent the railroads from dragging out the process by submitting an extension request without having any plan in place.
The proposed extension "will keep the pressure on freight and passenger railroads to ensure safety benefits are realized as soon as possible," said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., who heads the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. "Congress now needs to pass this plan in the coming weeks to avoid service disruptions that will impact shippers across the country and commuter railroad passengers."
But critics from states with commuters who rely on railroads to get them to work, like Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., were not happy with the extension.
"This five year extension of life-saving technology is way too long, with way too little guarantee that PTC implementation will get done," he said in a statement. "I will work for a reasonable measure that provides adequate time but holds railroads accountable through year-by-year review of progress toward fully-implemented PTC."
The PATH train system, which also serves New Jersey commuters to Manhattan, is already installing PTC technology. It has shut down service on the weekends to speed the process along.