Posts Tagged ‘Positive Train Control’

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.


FRA Holds 1st of 6 PTC Seminars

February 9, 2019

The Federal Railroad Administration this week held its first “collaborative sessions” involving the 41 railroads responsible for implementing positive train control under federal law.

It was the first of six such planned session and focused on the steps that railroads must take by the end of 2020 in order to achieve a fully interoperable system.

FRA personnel also described the agency’s approach to certifying  PTC systems and provided an update on best practices and lessons learned from the various systems being tested or already in place.

They also took questions from railroad representatives on technical and regulatory matters.

Also speaking at the session was U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.

“The sooner you get there [PTC implementation], the sooner our country will be able to realize all of the safety benefits of PTC,” she said. “I encourage you to head into these next two years with that goal — to obtain certification and achieve interoperability with your tenant railroads as soon as possible.”

Chao said DOT understands the PTC implementation challenges facing railroads and will do whatever it can to help them succeed, including funding through grant and loan programs.

“In addition, the FRA has taken steps to ensure it has the necessary human resources to respond to your needs and turn critical documents around in a timely fashion,” she said. “And the FRA will continue to collaborate with you in forums like these, and on an individual basis.”

UP Completes PTC Installation on Required Routes

February 7, 2019

Positive train control systems have been installed on all Union Pacific route miles that are required by law to have it.

In a news release, UP said this included passenger train routes.

The carrier said it is now seeking to ensure that PTC will be interoperable with other freight and passenger railroads operating on its tracks by the federal government’s deadline of Dec. 31, 2020.

UP said that in the last three months of 2018 it had trained 606 employees on PTC operations, bringing the total number of employees trained to 26,610, or 100 percent.

It also during that period of time increasing by 1,095 the number of PTC implemented PTC route miles, bringing the total number of route miles in PTC operations to 13,015 or 76 percent.

Four out of the five passenger-rail carriers are now operating PTC-equipped trains over UP lines.

With the Federal Railroad Administration’s conditional approval of its PTC safety plan in April 2017, UP now is running PTC operations on more than 13,000 miles in 21 states.

NTSB: No More PTC Delays

February 5, 2019

The National Transportation Safety Board said any further delays in stalling positive train control systems will continue to put passengers at risk of being involved in accidents caused by human errors.

NTSB members were critical of how federal officials have granted additional time to the railroad industry to install PTC.

“There should be no more extensions on PTC,” NTSB member Jennifer Homendy said at a event in which the board named PTC as one of its 10 most wanted reforms to improve transportation safety.

The list also includes measures designed to eliminate drunk and distracted driving.

Although railroads faced a Dec. 31, 2018, deadline to install PTC, the law also allows railroads to seek a two-year waiver from the Federal Railroad Administration if they met specified criteria for PTC installation as of that date.

Four of the 41 railroads subject to the PTC mandate had fully installed PTC as of the deadline with 34 others seeking or having been granted waivers.

The Association of American Railroads said in January that PTC is fully installed across on all its member railroads and operable on 83 percent of those route miles.

Homendy, though, acknowledged that train travel is “generally” safe.

“It’s one of the safest modes of transportation,” she said. “But the risk of a PTC preventable accident is still there.”

She also conceded that the equipment, radio frequencies and staff training needed to implement in PTC is expensive, “but in our view there’s a greater cost to losing a life.”

PTC in Place on Most Class 1 Routes

January 28, 2019

U.S. Class 1 railroads are now using positive train control on the vast majority of their routes, the Association of American Railroads said last week.

AAR said that at the end of 2018 the Class 1s had 83.2 percent of required route miles operating with PTC.

In a news release, AAR said the Class Is have equipped all locomotives, installed all wayside units and radio towers, trained all affected employees and acquired all radio spectrum needed for PTC operations.

Railroads that have done that will qualify for an additional 24 months of time via a waiver from the Federal Railroad Administration to test their systems and ensure interoperability.

AAR said all Class needed to complete testing and have PTC systems fully implemented across their networks.

The news release said Class 1 railroads have invested $10.5 billion in the development, installation and implementation of PTC, and had systems in operation across 44,695 miles of their required 53,732 miles of track.

Grant to Help NCDOT Buy PTC Equipment

January 22, 2019

The North Carolina Department of Transportation has received a grant from the federal government that will help to fund positive train control equipment for trains that it funds in the Raleigh-Charlotte corridor.

The $584,080 grant came from the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements program to help fund the purchase and installation PTC hardware on passenger service locomotives.

Although NCDOT installed PTC devices on its locomotives ahead of a federally required Dec. 31, 2018, implementation deadline, the grant will be used to outfit locomotives that will be required for expanding Piedmont passenger-rail service, including an upcoming fourth round trip between Charlotte and Raleigh beginning in the next few years, NCDOT said in a news release.
Amtrak operates for North Carolina six Piedmont trains between Charlotte and Raleigh.

The trains use locomotives and passengers cars owned by the NCDOT.

Intermediate stations in the corridor include Kannapolis, Salisbury, High Point, Greensboro, Burlington, Durham and Cary.

In a unrelated matter, NCDOT said it has obtained a state grant to be used to pay for improvements that will reduce locomotive air emissions.

That $484,500 diesel emissions reduction grant came from the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality.

It will used to pay for installation of a blended after-treatment system on one locomotive.

NCDOT plans to equip its entire locomotive fleet with BATS systems within the next two to three years, which officials said will it one of the cleanest locomotive fleets in the nation.

It’s The Turboliner Era All Over Again

January 16, 2019

I posted earlier this month about how the promised “high speeds” on the Chicago-St. Louis corridor have yet to materialize despite $1.95 million having been spent to rebuild the route to allow for 110-mile per hour operation.

Instead, the top speed for Lincoln Service trains and the Texas Eagle is 79 mph, which means that Chicago-St. Louis trains go no faster than, say, Chicago-Carbondale trains.

Trains in the Chicago-St. Louis corridor did travel 110 mph for a time in what Amtrak spokesman Marc Magilari later described as a demonstration project.

So when are higher speeds finally going to become routine for Lincoln Service trains?

The latest word from the Illinois Department of Transportation is that we might see 90 mph speeds this year.

But 110 mph? IDOT won’t go there anymore in predicting when that will happen.

The explanation being given for the delay is the positive train control system that will make higher speeds possible is still being tested.

There is probably a lot of truth to that given that PTC is a relatively new form of technology.

But even when the PTC is ready to go, it will hardly make the Chicago-St. Louis corridor a high-speed operation.

IDOT has said 90 mph speeds will shave 15 minutes off the travel time from the Windy City to the Gateway City.

That doesn’t like seem like much given how much money has been spent on this project.

But then again this was never intended to result in a high-speed rail project even if it might have been framed that way.

The term high-speed rail gets thrown out a lot in this country and when it does many people think of super trains such as the Japanese Shinkansen, the German ICE or maybe even Amtrak’s Acela Express.

Some of those overseas trains have taken on mythical stature in American minds and when I give presentations on transportation history I’m often asked when the United States will have such trains outside the Northeast Corridor.

My standard answer is not in your lifetime because there is too much political opposition and not enough money to make it happen.

Even in Europe where transportation policy makers look more favorable on intercity rail transportation it can take at least a decade to develop a new rail line.

It is hardly news that even in a best-case scenario the efforts to develop the Chicago-St. Louis were never going to result in a high-speed rail line the length of the corridor.

At best it could result in a corridor with high-speed rail in some places but many other places where even 79 mph would be a dramatic improvement.

There is slower going in the Chicago and St. Louis terminals, but also in en route cities such as Springfield where city officials have been talking about putting all of the rail lines into a single corridor for as long as I can remember.

Every so often I run across a news story reporting some progress in those efforts, but it has been incremental.

No one has come up with a viable plan to boost speeds in metropolitan Chicago and St. Louis, only through the corn and soybean fields of the hinterlands.

All of this reminds me of when Amtrak introduced French-built Turboliners to the Chicago-St. Louis corridor in October 1973.

They were capable of traveling 125 mph but couldn’t go any faster than – you guessed it – 79 mph on track then owned by the Illinois Central Gulf.

Super fast running, though, was not the point of introducing the Turboliners an Amtrak official confided to the late David P. Morgan, the editor of Trains magazine.

The purpose of the Turboliners was to show Amtrak was doing something to improve intercity rail passenger service other than making cosmetic changes to equipment that had been built before, during or shortly after World War II.

Come to think of it, the same could be said about the money spent to rebuild the Chicago-St. Louis corridor.

It is a way of showing that something is being done to improve intercity rail service between two cities that if they were located in Europe or Asia would already have had frequent high-speed rail service.

Presumably, Amtrak and host railroad Union Pacific will get the kinks worked out and someday trains will cruise at 90 mph and, maybe, 110 mph.

The Turboliners would have been right at home there. But they were removed from service more than two decades ago and are now just a footnote in the history of a corridor still looking to become something better than what it has been since Amtrak started 47 years ago.

Amtrak to Match SW Chief Route Grant

January 12, 2019

The Rail Passengers Association reported this week that it has learned that Amtrak will provide matching funds for a federal grant to be used to install positive train control on a portion of the route of the Southwest Chief.

The $9.2 million CRISI grant was awarded to the departments of transportation of Kansas and Colorado in partnership with Amtrak and host railroad BNSF.

The grant money will pay for the design, installation, and testing of PTC on about 179 miles of the Chief’s route between Dodge City, Kansas, and Las Animas, Colorado.

The development appears to represent an about face by Amtrak, which had earlier refused to honor its agreement to provide $3 million in matching funds for a $16 million federal TIGER grant won by a New Mexico county for rebuilding the route of the Chief in that state.

The RPA said it doesn’t know the status of Amtrak’s matching funds for the TIGER grant but it continues to lobby the passenger carrier to honor its agreement.

The Southwest Chief operates daily between Chicago and Los Angeles.

4 Railroad Fully PTC Compliant

January 3, 2019

The Federal Railroad Administration has said that four railroads as of Dec. 31 have fully implemented positive train control systems while other carriers required by law to adopt PTC technology have formally requested a two-year extension.

Forty-one railroads were required by federal law to implement PTC or meet FRA requirements to receive a two-year deadline extension known as “alternative schedule.”

The four fully-compliant railroads are North County Transit District, Metrolink, the Port Authority Trans-Hudson Corporation, and the Portland & Western Railroad.

Those carriers have said they have a fully implemented PTC system in operation on their required mainlines and all their trains are governed by a PTC system, including tenant railroads’ trains.

The FRA said that 37 railroads are seeking extensions, including seven Class I carriers. The group also includes 25 intercity passenger and commuter railroads, and five short-line or terminal railroads.

Twelve railroads have obtained conditional PTC system certification from the FRA, which permits them to operate PTC in revenue service.

There are now 41,000 route miles under PTC operation, which is 71 percent of the route miles that are subject to the federal mandate.

CN Says It has Met PTC Installation Requirements

December 28, 2018

Canadian National said it has met on its U.S. route all of the federal requirements for installation of positive train control equipment and is seeking from the Federal Railroad Administration a two-year extension to achieve complete PTC operability

By law the FRA can grant such extensions for railroads that have installed all hardware, acquired the necessary radio spectrum, and initiated PTC on more than half of their required mileage.

CN said it has installed 1,662 radio towers, trained all 5,614 employees required, installed hardware on 586 locomotives and 35 required track segments, and initiated PTC on 19 of those track segments, or 54 percent.

The railroad is spending $1.4 billion on PTC installation on its 3,100 route-miles in the U.S.