By David Morgan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House on Thursday endorsed a requirement that U.S. railroads install new safety equipment by the end of 2015, despite bipartisan efforts in Congress to give passenger and freight rail companies extra time to comply.
Administration support for the deadline could lead to a showdown with lawmakers in Congress over the safety equipment known as positive train control, or PTC, which federal officials say would have prevented the deadly May 12 Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia that killed eight people and injured more than 200.
Republicans and Democrats have introduced different pieces of legislation to extend the deadline. A measure giving railroads until the end of 2020 to comply with the safety requirement was approved by the Senate Commerce Committee in March and moved to the Senate floor for a vote.
The Federal Railroad Administration told Congress this week that it supports the Dec. 31 deadline and said railroads that miss it could face civil penalties. At a House hearing, FRA Administrator Sarah Feinberg called on lawmakers to provide her regulatory agency with authority to impose interim safety improvements on railroads that fall behind.
"We agree with the Federal Railroad Administration that the December 31 deadline is important and that the Department of Transportation should enforce that deadline," a White House official said.
PTC technology can automatically slow or stop a train to prevent an accident. National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Christopher Hart said this week that PTC would have prevented the Philadelphia derailment, had the technology been in place.
The Philadelphia derailment occurred when a northbound Amtrak passenger train was traveling at more than 100 miles per hour (160 kph) along a curve with a 50 mph speed limit.
Amtrak says it intends to meet the PTC deadline on track it owns or controls in the busy Northeast Corridor, which stretches from Washington to Boston. But other passenger and freight carriers are not expected to install the technology in time.
(Additional reporting by Nick Carey in Chicago; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)