Posts Tagged ‘Positive Train Control’

Chicago-St. Louis Top Speed Set at 90 mph

July 9, 2021

Amtrak this week raised the top speed for trains traveling on its Chicago-St. Louis corridor to 90 miles per hour.

The action came after the Federal Railroad Administration completed its certification of reliability of the signal system on the former Gulf, Mobile & Ohio route that is now mostly owned by Union Pacific.

The higher speeds will apply between Laraway Road (south of Joliet, Illinois) and CP Wann (two miles south of Alton, Illinois).

The higher speed is permitted if a train is led by an Amtrak locomotive equipped with both Alstom’s Incremental Train Control System to monitor the status of highway crossings, and the Wabtec Interoperable Electronic Train Management System.

In the past decade Amtrak, the Illinois Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration have spent more than $2 billion to upgrade the route with the goal of achieving a top speed of 110 miles per hour.

However, those efforts fell short because of several failed efforts to create a signal system that would support that speed and while interacting with highway crossing equipment.

A short stretch between Dwight and Pontiac in 2015 tested 110 mph speeds in 2015 but UP and other parties concluded the equipment used there was unreliable and incompatible with the railroad’s I-ETMS positive train control system.

I-ETMS is only currently certified as a vital system for a top speed of 90 mph.

It would need further testing and development to reach FRA certification for 110 mph, a process that would require additional funding that has yet to materialize.

Amtrak plans to tweak its travel times on July 19 to reflect the higher speeds and when it returns Lincoln Service to its pre-COVID-19 pandemic level of service.

Wolverine Service Frequency to Rise July 19

May 19, 2021

The Michigan Department of Transportation and Amtrak have agreed to add back an additional daily roundtrip to the Chicago-Detroit corridor that was suspended in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Chicago-Pontiac Wolverine Service train will begin operating July 19, going westbound in the morning and eastbound in the evening.

The two parties also said that effective May 25 speed limits on 45 miles of the corridor will ncrease to 110 miles per hour.

The faster speeds were authorized between Kalamazoo and Albion, Michigan, on track owned by MDOT

The higher speeds are being allowed following completion of Federal Railroad Administration certification of the signal system.

Officials said additional track infrastructure work is needed before the top speed can be increased between Albion and Dearborn in the Detroit suburbs.

The faster speeds will not reduce the scheduled travel time in the corridor but MDOT and Amtrak officials contended in a statement that improved on-time performance can be expected because the higher speeds will enable trains to make up time lost elsewhere.

This includes segments shared with freight railroads in Chicago and Northwest Indiana, and in the Detroit region.

Speeds of up to 110 mph have been in place since 2012 in the corridor on the Amtrak-owned segment between Kalamazoo and Porter, Indiana.

That segment uses an Incremental Train Control System signaling system.

That system has since been placed into operation east of Kalamazoo as an overlay to the interoperable I-ETMS positive train control system.

The schedule effective July 19 will have Wolverine Service trains 350 and 354 departing Chicago at 7:20 a.m. and 5:50 p.m., respectively.

Westbound trains 351 and 355 will depart Pontiac at 5:43 a.m. and 5:35 p.m., respectively.

The new schedule will restore connections from western long-distance trains to Michigan points that were lost during the pandemic.

Currently, the lone Wolverine Service on the corridor departs Pontiac at 5:43 a.m. and arrives in Chicago in late morning.

The return trip, though leaves Chicago at 1:25 p.m., which is too late to make connections from inbound Western long distance trains.

An MDOT official said the agency will consider adding back the third roundtrip to the corridor “as travel demands increase and COVID-19 vaccination rates rise in Michigan.”

Before the pandemic, trains departed Pontiac in early morning, mid morning and late afternoon. Trains departed Chicago in early morning, early afternoon and early evening.

FRA Says PTC Deadline Has Been Met

December 30, 2020

The Federal Railroad Administration said this week that all railroads required to do so have met the deadline for installation and implementation of positive train control.

PTC is in operation on all of the 57,536 routes miles required to have it.

This includes rail lines that handle intercity or commuter passengers on a regular basis, certain hazardous materials, and Class 1 railroad mainlines that see more than 5 million gross tons of annual traffic.

The mandate for the installation of PTC was part of the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008.

Federal law gave the railroad industry a deadline of Dec. 31, 2020, to install and place PTC systems into operation.

In a news release, the FRA said this meant the FRA had certified not only that PTC was in operation but also that PTC systems had achieved interoperability.

This means a PTC system used by a tenant railroad such as Amtrak is compatible with the PTC system of a host railroad such as CSX.

PTC is designed to prevent train-to-train collisions, overspeed derailments, work-zone accidents, and incidents involving improperly lined switches.

Implementation of PTC involved seven Class I railroads, Amtrak, 28 commuter railroads, and five other freight railroads that host regularly scheduled intercity or commuter rail passenger service.

Also involved in the effort were industry associations, suppliers and other service providers who have been working for more than a decade to develop, install, test and oversee the operation of PTC systems.

FRA certification means a PTC system complies with the required technical requirements contained in federal law or FRA regulations.

Most railroads have been in compliance with federal law and regulations for several months with 99.6 percent of those affected by the PTC mandate having complied by the end of the third quarter of this year.

Amtrak OIG Says PTC Systems Could be More Reliable

December 18, 2020

The Amtrak Office of Inspector General reported this week that the passenger railroad expects to achieve positive train control interoperability with its host railroads by the Dec. 31, 2020, deadline, but can take steps to better ensure its systems are reliable.

The OIG said Amtrak faces two risks that may diminish PTC’s safety benefits.

These include a lack of electronic tools to easily access data needed for it and the Federal Railroad Administration to monitor PTC system performance.

This means reports on reliability are incomplete and the processes to manually compile PTC data are inefficient and error-prone.

The OIG said the risks involve Amtrak’s practices when PTC systems do not initialize before a train leaves a station or disengages while en route.

The report said Amtrak does not consistently follow the stringent practices for PTC malfunctions that will be required by the FRA as of Jan. 1, 2020, and that data input processes contain a risk of human error.

The report noted that Amtrak achieved full implementation of its PTC systems last August

The OIG review found at least twice as many reliability incidents in a month than Amtrak officials identified after reviewing the same source of information.

As a result, the OIG report concluded, “reports on PTC reliability are incomplete and Amtrak cannot easily identify potential problems it may need to address promptly or longer-term.”

Although Amtrak officials acknowledged the need for electronic tools, they told the OIG “they have not fully researched available options because they have been focused on meeting the implementation deadline.”

Amtrak officials also cited funding constraints because of the pandemic.

Amtrak has “invested hundreds of millions of dollars” in PTC, including about $370 million from fiscal years 2008 through 2020, according to the report.

The passenger carrier has three PTC systems including the Advanced Civil Speed Enforcement System used on the Northeast Corridor and connecting corridors it owns; Incremental Train Control System in Michigan; and Interoperable Electronic Train Management System onboard locomotives that operate on freight railroads where it is a tenant.

Amtrak Completes PTC Installation, Training

August 14, 2020

Amtrak said this week that is has now completed installation of positive train control on 898 miles of track that it owns as well as all of its locomotives.

The last Amtrak-owned track to get PTC was a one-mile segment in its Chicago terminal.

The carrier said it continues to work with its host railroads and tenant railroads to implement PTC interoperability.

Amtrak said its progress includes equipping all 550 of its locomotives with an operable PTC system, completing installation of PTC on 11 track segments and erecting 160 radio towers.

All Amtrak employees required to be trained in PTC operations have completed their training.

FRA Reports Continued Progress in PTC Implementation

August 2, 2019

The Federal Railroad Administration reported this week that positive train control is in place on nearly 90 percent of the route miles subject to the federal mandate as of June.

FRA Administrator Ronald Batory told a Senate committee that despite that progress there remains “significant work” to be done to fully implement PTC the end of 2020.

“Nonetheless, railroads must still complete significant work to full implement their PTC systems by Dec. 31, 2020, especially with respect to activating PTC systems on the remaining required main lines and achieving the necessary interoperability with their tenant railroads,” Batory said in his prepared statement.

Through the end of June PTC was in operation on 87 percent of the 58,000 route miles subject to the federal PTC mandate, based on preliminary reports railroads provide the FRA.

Batory told the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation that is a 4 percent increase from the first quarter.

PTC systems are being tested in revenue service demonstration on at least 718 route miles.

Eleven freight railroads, 30 commuter railroads and Amtrak are subject to the PTC mandate.

Among the highlights of the latest PTC report are:

• Class I railroads report that PTC is in operation on 91 percent of their required main lines, which represented a 4 percent increase from the first quarter.

• Host commuter railroads have PTC in revenue service on 443 route miles and in RSD testing on 718 route miles, which represented 37 percent of their 3,111 PTC-required route miles and a 12 percent increase since the first quarter.

• Amtrak, as a host railroad on and near the Northeast Corridor and other parts of the country, reported 899 of its 900 required route miles are governed by PTC. Operations are governed by PTC on 84 percent of route miles where Amtrak operates as a tenant on other railroads’ PTC-equipped main lines.

• Six short line or terminal railroads must implement PTC on their own main lines that provide or host regularly scheduled intercity or commuter passenger rail service. One of those six has been operating its FRA-certified and interoperable PTC system in revenue service since 2018, while the other five are conducting FRA-approved field testing of their PTC systems on the general rail network. They expect to begin RSD during the third quarter.

• Batory said host railroads reported 17 percent of tenant railroads that operate on their PTC-required main lines had achieved interoperability as of March 31.

• Host railroads also reported 33 percent of their applicable tenant railroads were installing PTC hardware and 38 percent had advanced to interoperability testing as of March 31.

“The FRA is currently directing its focus and resources to the PTC-mandated main lines that have a high concentration of host railroads and tenant railroads, including commuter railroads with significant remaining work, such as the PTC-mandated main lines in the Northeast, Chicago area, Florida and Texas,” Batory said.

Human Error Ruled Cause of Silver Star Crash

July 24, 2019

The National Transportation Safety Board has concluded that human error led to the February 2018 collision in South Carolina of an Amtrak train and a parked CSX train.

Two Amtrak crew members were killed in the collision and 74 others aboard the train were injured.

The accident happened when Amtrak’s southbound Silver Star was routed into a siding where the CSX train was sitting unattended in Cayce, South Carolina.

The NTSB investigation determined that the conductor of the CSX train had reported to the train’s engineer that a switch from the main to the siding had been realigned for the main.

The engineer in turn relayed that information to a dispatcher. However, the conductor had not realigned the switch.

At the time of the collision, the signal system on a 23-mile segment of the Columbia Subdivision has been suspended while workers were installing equipment for positive train control.

Trains were being dispatched by track warrants given over the radio.

The NTSB also concluded that the collision occurred as a result of inadequate attention to safety risks.

The board concluded that CSX failed to identify and mitigate the risk of operating trains while the signal system was under suspension.

Killed in the collision was the Amtrak engineer and conductor, who on the head end to copy train orders.

The Silver Star was traveling at more than 50 miles per hour when it struck CSX local F777.

“CSX failed to ensure that this crew was properly prepared to perform the tasks CSX assigned them to do that night,” said NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt, about the events leading to the Feb. 4, 2018, collision.

In the wake of the Silver Star accident, the NTSB asked the Federal Railroad Administration to issue an emergency order requiring railroads to operate trains at restricted speed approaching switches when a signal suspension is in effect.

In response the FRA issued an advisory to that effect, but not a rule. The NTSB in its final report repeated its recommendation that this be made a rule.

The NTSB also said the FRA could do more to prevent accident caused by misaligned switches, such as requiring the installation of switch position indicators.

In the Silver Star investigation, NTSB personnel found that CSX never conducted efficiency testing, or a skills assessment, on either the engineer or conductor of F777 for the purposes of ensuring proper switch alignment.

“I believe that the conductor had every intention of following the rules and thought that he did,” Mike Hoepf a consultant on human performance told NTSB. “He just made a mistake.”

The final NTSB report also called into question the effectiveness of using a Switch Position Awareness Form to mitigate the risk of an improperly lined switch.

No such form used by the F777 crew on that day was found by NTSB investigators.

PTC Covers all Union Pacific Passenger Routes

May 21, 2019

Union Pacific is now operating with positive train control on 80 percent of its route miles.

The carriers said it recently implemented PTC on 582 route miles, bringing required PCT-operated route miles to 13,597.

In a news release, UP said PTC has been in operation over all of its routes hosting passenger trains since last year

UP said it continues to work to ensure PTC interoperability with other freight and passenger railroads operating on UP track by 2020.

In the news release, UP said it completed PTC installation on required route miles and employee training in the fourth quarter of 2018.

PTC Now in Place on Cascades Route

March 27, 2019

Despite completion of a positive train control system on the Point Defiance route in Washington no date has been set for Amtrak to resume using it.

Amtrak used the route briefly in December 2018, but the first southbound Cascades train over the route derailed, killing three passengers aboard the train.

The Point Defiance route begins in Tacoma and rejoins the current route used by Amtrak at Nisqually, Washington.

News reports indicate that PTC is now in operation between Blaine, Washington, and Eugene, Oregon, which is used by Amtrak’s Cascades service.

Portions of the route also are used by the Empire Builder and Coast Starlight.

FRA Status Report Shows PTC Progress Continuing

February 16, 2019

In its latest status report, the Federal Railroad Administration said all railroads affected by a Dec. 31, 2018, statutory deadline to install positive train control met the mandate of full implementation or submitting requests demonstrating they had met or exceeded the statutory criteria for an alternative schedule.

The latter would enable the carriers to have two additional years to complete full implementation.

Under federal law, 41 railroads, including passenger rail agencies, were required to meet the Dec. 31 deadline.

In a news release, the FRA said it drew its conclusion about compliance based on self-reported data from the affected railroads.

The FRA said all railroads satisfied the six statutory criteria necessary to qualify for an extension.

PTC was in operation in the fourth quarter of 2018 on 46,000 of the 58,000 route miles where the technology systems must be deployed.

PTC systems were in revenue service demonstration on an additional 288 route miles.

The key remaining steps for full PTC implementation includes conducting revenue service demonstration (advanced testing on the general rail system), submitting a PTC Safety Plan and obtaining PTC System Certification from the FRA, achieving interoperability between host railroads and tenant railroads, and activating the PTC system so it governs all operations on the required main lines.

The latest status report showed that as of Dec. 31, 2018, host railroads’ operations are governed by a PTC system on 83 percent of the freight railroad route miles subject to the mandate and 30 percent of the required passenger railroad route miles.

Of approximately 233 host-tenant railroad relationships, 16 percent have reportedly achieved PTC system interoperability as of Dec. 31, which means the locomotives of a host railroad and a tenant railroad operating on the same main line can communicate with and respond to the PTC system, including uninterrupted movements over property boundaries.

The FRA said it has conditionally certified 12 host railroads’ PTC systems, based on their PTC Safety Plans; two PTC Safety Plans are currently under review; and 23 additional PTC Safety Plans must be submitted by June 2020.

Thirty-three railroads have submitted a written notification formally requesting FRA’s review and approval of an alternative schedule and sequence, and as of Feb. 11 the agency had formally approved 25 requests.