Amtrak Walks Back PTC ‘No Operation’ Pledge

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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