After avoiding another government shutdown by just a few hours, Congress has yet another economic fire to put out.
The U.S. is facing a potential railway shutdown on Jan. 1, 2016 — a shutdown that American Chemistry Council says would be more detrimental to the economy than the government shutdown of 2013.
The government shutdown in 2013 from Oct. 1 to Oct. 16 cost the US economy $24 billion. The American Chemistry Council estimates the railroad shutdown could cost the US economy $30 billion and 700,000 jobs.
To be fair, those figures are based on a monthlong railroad shutdown. The government shutdown of 2013 lasted only 16 days.
The reason for the potential shutdown is a collision avoidance system called positive train control. In 2008, Congress ordered all the railroad companies to install the system by the end of 2015.
"With a functioning positive train control system, as that train approached that curve, the technology would have actually slowed the train down," said former Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo.
But executives from major railway companies — like BNSF, Union Pacific and CSX — say the 2015 deadline isn't feasible, and the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee is urging Congress to extend it.
"Implementation of PTC has not kept pace with an overly ambitious deadline set by Congress," said South Dakota Sen. John Thune.
Lawmakers have drafted a bill to extend the deadline until 2018, but if that bill doesn't pass, railways around the country could see gradual shutdowns in the coming months, just in time for the holiday season.