Posts Tagged ‘Positive Train Control’

Amtrak Walks Back PTC ‘No Operation’ Pledge

September 17, 2018

Amtrak appears to have done an about face on an earlier vow to refuse to operate passenger trains on routes that lack an operating positive train control by Dec. 31.

During a hearing of a House committee, Amtrak Chief Operating Officer Scot Naparstek said the carrier will seek a deadline extension from the Federal Railroad Administration in order to operate all its trains.

Naparstek told the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials that Amtrak decided to seek the extension because of interoperability issues with other railroads that operate on Amtrak tracks and with railroads whose tracks Amtrak uses.

“When 2019 arrives, we will have our track, computer, training and locomotive PTC work complete and will be operating PTC across all of the tracks we control and across much of the host railroad network,” Naparstek said.

Naparstek said 222 of Amtrak’s 315 daily trains now operate with PTC on some or all of their routes. That figure is expected to rise to 283 by Dec. 31 when the railroad industry faces a federal deadline to implement PTC or qualify for an extension of up to two years.

Amtrak is studying how it might operate on rail lines that do not have PTC in place by next January.

Naparstek said the carrier’s goal is to continue to operate all its current routes.

“Exactly how we accomplish this will vary across our network, based on the specifics of each route,” he said. “But . . . we believe we will have strategies in place that will permit us to continue operations until operational PTC or PTC-equivalency is achieved for all our network.”

He describes the interoperability of PTC whereby the PTC equipment of one railroad works on another railroad’s routes, as a work in progress.

In a follow-up statement, Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said, “The testimony makes it clear Amtrak is planning to operate the current network in the coming fiscal year, with additional safety actions for some segments, as we strive for the goal of positive train control or an equivalent on all our routes.”

That suggests that Amtrak will not discontinue operating trains that use routes that lack a fully functioning PTC system.

Naperstek also said Amtrak is working with tenant railroads on the Northeast Corridor and other Amtrak-owned lines to ensure that they are able to maintain their operations.

“Our aim is to ensure that all of our tenants have an operational system as soon as possible,” he said. “We are mindful of the impacts that any disruption of commuter service may have on the regions we serve and the potential safety consequences that could follow.”

In progress report, Naperstek said that through Sept. 10, Amtrak had installed PTC systems on  88 of its locomotives required for revenue service.

Furthermore, 122 of 142 installations have been made on 114 state-owned locomotives and cab cars that Amtrak operates or maintains.

He also said that 53 units are being tested and are PTC operable; eight of 11 installation/track segments have been completed; 132 of 140 radio towers are fully installed and equipped; all employees required to be trained in PTC operations have been trained; 607 of 901 route-miles are in PTC operation, and 480 route-miles are in testing.

Naperstek’s testimony was in contrast to the remarks of Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson during a February House Railroad Subcommittee hearing at which Anderson said Amtrak would not operate trains on lines not equipped with fully operational PTC in 2019 if its host freight railroads failed to meet the Dec. 31 interim deadline for installation. He also said that Amtrak would prohibit non-PTC-compliant equipment from operating on the lines it owns, primarily on the Northeast Corridor.

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Point Defiance PTC Testing Begins

September 17, 2018

Testing began last weekend of the positive train control system on the Point Defiance Bypass in Washington State.

The route is used by commuter trains serving Seattle-Tacoma and is expected to be used by Amtrak starting next spring.

Amtrak began using the line last December but on the first day of operation a southbound Cascades train derailed near DuPont, Washington, killing three passengers.

Investigators have said the train was speeding as it entered a curve.

Amtrak officials subsequently said the carrier would use its original route between Tacoma and Nisqually, Washington, until the PTC system had been placed in service.

House Committee Warns About PTC Deadline

September 17, 2018

Members of a Congressional committee spent part of a hearing last week rattling their sabers about the implementation of positive train control, saying that railroads that failed to meet a Dec. 31 deadline will face fines.

Forty railroads are required to meet the PTC deadline, which is specified by federal law. But the Federal Railroad Administration has said that nine railroads are at risk of missing the deadline or even qualifying for an extension.

“Patience is growing thin on PTC implementation,” said Rep. Jeff Denham, R-California, chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials.

Rep. Michael Capuano, D-Massachusetts, the ranking minority member of the subcommittee, said he had no sympathy for the commuter lines that were at greatest risk.

“I don’t think you’re going to find too many open minds on this side of the table,” if railroad officials offer excuses for not complying with the law, Capuano said.

“If people are not complying, you change the business calculation,” by forcing companies to factor in financial sanctions, said Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-Connecticut.

Committee members did, though, heap praise on railroads that are poised to meet the deadline and/or qualify for an extension of time to fully implement PTC.

FRA Administrator Ronald Batory said fining non-compliant railroads is a possibility, but said it would be one of many actions the FRA might take. The fines could be as much as $27,904 per day.

“I’d like not to have to use that tool. But if that’s the one you have to use in combination with everything else that we’ve invoked, I think we should do nothing less,” he said.

Batory said the FRA has begun enforcement actions against 13 railroads that had not met hardware installation deadlines set down at the end of 2017.

He said that it is important for the FRA to focus on a “concentrated, concise, collaborative communication” process to help expedite each railroad’s progress toward compliance.

Agency Says Downeaster Will Continue Operating

August 30, 2018

The agency overseeing Amtrak’s Downeaster service said rail service will continue even though a portion of the train is exempt from a federal law mandating that passenger routes have a positive train control system in place by the end of the year.

“Amtrak has gone through a review of all lines, even those that aren’t required to have [positive train control], and conducted safety assessments and there are no risks associated with the Downeaster line,” said Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority. “The route is not in jeopardy at all.”

Amtrak operates the Downeaster line, which links Boston and Brunswick, Maine.

Quinn said segments of the line received an exemption from the Federal Railroad Administration because the line sees fewer than 12 trips per day.

“For those carriers and routes operating under an extension or under an [Federal Rail Authority]-approved exemption, Amtrak is performing risk analyses and developing strategies for enhancing safety on a route-byroute basis to ensure that there is a single level of safety across the Amtrak network,” Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari.

Quinn said the New England rail authority is “not considering” installing the technology at this time.

PTC Expected to be Running in Cascades Corridor

August 29, 2018

Positive train control is expected to be in operation on the Point Defiance Byass route in Washington state by the end of the year, Amtrak and the Washington Department of Transportation said this week.

The two added that PTC should be operation on the entire Cascades corridor as well.

Amtrak had started using the Point Defiance Bypass last December, but a southbound Cascades train derailed on the first day of service on the route, resulting in three passengers being killed and dozens injured.

The National Transportation Safety Board has indicated in a preliminary finding that the Amtrak train was speeding through a curve at the time of the derailment.

The Point Defiance Bypass runs through Tacoma, Lakewood, Joint Base Lewis-McChord and DuPont.

Amtrak expects to begin using the route in spring 2019. WSDOT said that will give officials an opportunity to monitor the performance of the PTC system along the Cascades route.

“Amtrak, Sound Transit and BNSF are all working together to ensure PTC is operating seamlessly in the entire Pacific Northwest and they are confident they will meet the Dec. 31, 2018, federal deadline for implementation in our region,” officials said in a statement.

Amtrak Rips PTC Report

August 29, 2018

Amtrak has taken issue with a story posted Monday on the website of Trains magazine, calling it inaccurate.

The story cited second-hand sources as saying that Amtrak Vice President Stephen Gardner said at a meeting in New Mexico last week that Amtrak will not operate over routes lacking positive train control after Dec. 31, 2018.

The Trains story extrapolated from that that as many as eight trains could be in jeopardy because parts of their routes are unlikely to have PTC in operation by that date.

In a statement released Tuesday Amtrak sought to clarify its stance on operating on routes that fail to have PTC in place by the Dec. 31 deadline mandated in federal law:

“Where PTC is not implemented and operational, it is expected that nearly all carriers will qualify for an alternative PTC implementation schedule under law.

“For those carriers and routes operating under an extension or under an FRA-approved exemption, Amtrak is performing risk analyses and developing strategies for enhancing safety on a route-by-route basis to ensure that there is a single level of safety across the Amtrak network.

“For those very limited routes where a host may not achieve an alternative schedule by year’s end, Amtrak will suspend service and may seek alternative modes of service until such routes come into compliance.”

The statement does not address whether any of the routes identified by Trains have segments that will lack “an alternative schedule” by the end of the year.

Amtrak told the Rail Passengers Association that it would have denied the reporter had the Trains reporter sought comment from the carrier.

Boardman is Again Critical of Amtrak

August 29, 2018

Former Amtrak head Joseph Boardman has again criticized the passenger carrier’s stance on operating on routes lacking positive train control.

Boardman

Boardman told Trains magazine that the Amtrak board of directors has not seriously considered the consequences of an earlier statement that the carrier will not use routes lacking PTC by a Dec. 31 deadline for implementation set by federal law.

In particular, the carrier has indicated that is considering sending Southwest Chief passengers by bus between Albuquerque and Dodge City, Kansas, or La Junta, Colorado.

A sticking point is how Amtrak will treat route segments that are exempt from the PTC requirement.

“If Amtrak requires PTC on any exempted portion the full cost of the PTC installation and maintenance becomes Amtrak’s. So they could load up costs for these routes or pass them on to states (sponsoring service),” Boardman said.

“It’s just ridiculous and it is not necessary in the sparse operating environment of the FRA-exempted track areas. It is also not financially sensible to burden this cost on Congress or a state given the operating situation.”

Boardman said passenger trains can operate safely on track lacking PTC.

He said Amtrak should stop ignoring the judgments of the Federal Railroad Administration and continue to operate safe railroading without PTC on the FRA-judged low risk sections of track that received PTC exemptions in order to fulfill the “public service” mission it was created for.

“If the board made this decision then it has been poorly advised,” Boardman said. “Risk management and behavioral safety training is not new with the SMS [Safety Management System] adopted from the FAA and recently promoted within Amtrak.

Boardman described SMS as a “formal, top-down, organization-wide approach to managing safety risk and assuring the effectiveness of safety risk controls.”

Amtrak created a risk management department following an Inspector General recommendation several years ago, but it was ended in 2017.

As he has argued in the past, Boardman believes recent Amtrak management decisions and actions have resulted in “serious missteps with Amtrak stakeholders, customers, and members of Congress.”

Calling this unacceptable nonsense, Boardman said it is time to move on and provide customer and stakeholder service and commitment.

“It’s creating an unprofessional situation for Amtrak that is reprehensible and unsustainable in the eyes of Congress and Dodge and Garden City, Kansas; La Junta and Trinidad Colorado; Raton, and Las Vegas, New Mexico; BNSF Railroad employees, private car owners, and even the United States Marine Corp. And those disgusted stakeholders are only the tip of the problems.”

Amtrak PTC Stance Endangers 8 Trains

August 28, 2018

An Amtrak official last week reiterated the carrier’s stance that it will not operate on rail lines lacking positive train control after Dec. 31.

The declaration was made by Senior Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer Stephen Gardner during a meeting in Raton, New Mexico, to discuss the future of the Southwest Chief.

Garnder also said the Amtrak board of directors has decreed that the policy will stand even in cases where a host railroad has been granted a PTC exemption by the Federal Railroad Administration.

That stance, if not reversed, would endanger eight Amtrak routes. Trains magazine reported on its website that those trains are:

  • Southwest Chief: Between La Junta, Colorado, and Dailies, New Mexico, and through Topeka, Kansas.
  • Cardinal:  Buckingham Branch Railroad between Orange and Clifton Forge, Virginia.
  • California Zephyr: On 152 miles of Union Pacific’s Green River subdivision west of Grand Junction, Colorado.
  • Texas Eagle: On 110 miles of UP’s Desoto subdivision south of St. Louis.
  • Downeaster: North of Haverhill, Massachusetts, to Brunswick, Maine., on Pan Am Railways
  • Vermonter: On the New England Central north of Springfield, Massachusetts.
  • Ethan Allen: On Vermont Railway east of Whitehall, New York.
  • City of New Orleans: On 18 miles of Canadian National in Memphis, Tennessee, and New Orleans

All Aboard Ohio reported that the Lake Shore Limited might also be in danger because it uses eight miles of CSX track between downtown Cleveland and Collinwood Yard that do not have PTC.

Amtrak and elected officials in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico have been locked in a battle over the Southwest Chief.

The elected officials are angry because Amtrak refuses to release its share of matching funds for a federal TIGER grant won by Colfax County, New Mexico, to rebuild the route used by the Chief in New Mexico.

Earlier TIGER grants have been used to rebuild the route of Nos. 3 and 4 in Colorado and Kansas.

Steve Cottrell, the assistant city manager of Garden City, Kansas, attended the meeting and said Gardner insisted that Amtrak “had no preconceived end game in mind.”

However , Gardner’s presentation included the proposed bus bridge between either Dodge City, Kansas, or La Junta, Colorado, and Albuquerque.

A draft schedule shows Nos. 3 and 4 originating and terminating in Dodge City, with the bus service connecting there.

The bus service in turn would connect with a Los Angeles-Albuquerque train.

Amtrak envisions the Chicago-Dodge City, and Albuquerque-Los Angeles trains each having two locomotives, two coaches, one coach-baggage car and a café car.

The passenger carrier estimates it will need to spend between $4 million and more than $13 million to establish layover and turning facilities in Dodge City and Albuquerque.

“I made the statement to him that it would have been a much more pleasant meeting had Amtrak sat down with the [Southwest Chief] Coalition, and state DOT’s prior to making such statements because we want to work out how to get the TIGER 9 [grant, the latest providing funding to maintain the Chief route] off the ground and get a commitment for their share of the money,” Cottrell told Trains.

“If it’s going to take working out another three- to five-year plan for the improvements, either to the railroad or start some phased installation of PTC, so be it, but to get blindsided by this bus bridge thing and then come in and say they have no preconceived idea just kind of set a negative tone to the meeting that shouldn’t have had to be that way,” he said.

BNSF Seeks PTC Deadline Extension

June 15, 2018

Over the past year there has been a cascade of reports about the progress that U.S. railroads are making toward installing positive train control systems on tracks that carry passengers or hazardous cargo.

The federal law that mandates PTC be installed by the end of this year also allows for an extension of the deadline if certain conditions are met.

The bid for an extension must be made to the Federal Railroad Administration.

Although the PTC deadline is still several months away, the first request for a two-year extension has been made and it has come from an unlikely source.

BNSF said last December that it had installed and was operating PTC on all subdivisions required to have it, making the western railroad a leader in PTC installation.

But BNSF is seeking the extension because of what it terms how the FRA is interpreting federal law as to the interoperability of PTC, which means that locomotives from one railroad can operate under the PTC systems of another carrier.

In a news release, BNSF said the FRA has interpreted federal law to mean that all other railroads operating across any of BNSF’s PTC-equipped lines must be capable of operating with BNSF’s PTC system, but not all railroads that use BNSF track will have completed their PTC installation by the end of this year.

BNSF also said that interoperability of PTC systems between Class I, commuter and short-line rail carriers “remains a challenge.”

The Fort Worth-based carrier said it has PTC in place on 88 required subdivisions covering more than 11,500 route miles.

Recently Amtrak and BNSF announced that two long-distance passenger trains using BNSF track, the Southwest Chief and California Zephyr, will begin using PTC this summer.

In a series of progress reports, the FRA has indicated that some railroads, particularly commuter carriers, are in jeopardy of not only missing the PTC installation deadline but also failing to make sufficient progress to qualify for an extension of the PTC deadline.

Amtrak, BNSF to Implement PTC on Select Routes

June 12, 2018

Amtrak expected to implement positive control operations this week on trains using BNSF tracks, including the Southwest Chief and California Zephyr

It will be the first activation on host-owned territory used by Amtrak. BNSF and Amtrak expect full activation of PTC operations on BNSF routes that host these two trains to be completed by the end of August.

“This is a great step for Amtrak,” said BNSF Assistant Vice President Network Control Systems Chris Matthews. “We have the infrastructure in place that allows Amtrak to operate on our network. We have partnered with them on the federal mandate and in some cases beyond the federal mandate to install PTC on subdivisions not required of BNSF. We look forward to continuing that partnership as they roll-out PTC along our routes.”

As for its own physical plant, Amtrak said it is making progress toward installing and activating PTC.

To date Amtrak said it has installed PTC on 380 of 444 Amtrak-owned locomotives and that 86 percent of the motive power fleet is PTC operable.

Amtrak said 607 of its 900 routes miles has PTC in operation, 95 percent of employees who require training have completed it, and 104 of 120 radio towers have PTC full installed and equipped.

The passenger carrier said it is working with its host railroads on PTC implementation and expects nearly all of them to qualify for an alternative PTC implementation schedule as allowed under federal law.

A risk analysis study is being undertaken for operating on routes under an extension or under an FRA-approved exemption.

That study is expected to result in developing strategies for enhancing safety on a route-by-route basis.

Reiterating a position that Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson stated earlier, Amtrak said that on a very limited number of routes where a host railroad has not met the federal PTC deadline that Amtrak “will suspend service and may seek alternative modes of service until such routes come into compliance.”