Class 1 Railroads Continue to Work Through PTC Issues

Quarterly reports issued by the Federal Railroad Administration show that the 42 railroads required to have implemented a positive train control system by then end of 2020 have made much progress toward that objective, but continue to face challenges.

As of last June 30, the FRA said PTC was in operation on about 50,300 of the 58,000 route miles required by law to have PTC. That is approaching 90 percent.

In a news release distributed in early September the agency said it continues to meet with

Railroads and equipment vendors as well as monitor implementation developments, share best practices, and jointly identify and resolve common technical problems.

Among the top challenges that railroads fact is activating PTC on their remaining mainlines and achieving interoperability.

The latter means that the locomotives of one railroad are compatible with the PTC system of other railroads over which it operates. Think Amtrak, which operates on all U.S. Class 1 systems.

The FRA said that of the 232 host-tenant relationships associated with PTC, only 50 (or 22 percent) had attained interoperability through the end of the second quarter of 2019.

Other issues railroads are deadling with include fully integrating PTC into their train operations and related work processes, and ensuring system reliability.

Organizational interoperability, which is data flow among railroad partners, is another issue that is being addressed primarily at the industry level.

Each railroad also has its own needs to address. At Norfolk Southern, for example, management expected to complete implementing PTC in the second quarter of 2020.

“We’re trying to get it in place as soon as we can do it,” said Eric Hullemeyer, director of advanced train control systems and operations for NS.

Through mid-September NS had 7,196 of its 8,008-mile PTC required system in operation affecting about 800 trains per day with the technology.

Hullemeyer told Preogressive Railroading magazine that interoperability has been a “tough nut to crack.”

NS must achieve interoperability with all other Class Is, six commuter railroads and 30 short lines.

It has reached interoperability to date with Amtrak, the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NC by Train), Virginia Railway Express and CSX.

The latter is crucial because NS has more than 250 connection points with CSX, its largest interchange partner.

“Now, we’re putting our attention on the western railroads. The good news is we have much fewer connection points with the others,” Hullemeyer said.

Yet many of those are in Chicago where NS has more than a dozen interchanging railroads.

Railroads serving Chicago formed a deployment team that meets bi-weekly.

Much of the PTC implementation work in Chicago has been completed. At present the railroads are field testing and going live with each other’s  PTC systems.

“We will use Chicago as a model for best practices and lessons learned,” Hullenmeyer said.

Despite installing what officials terms a lot of onboard, wayside and back office equipment associated with PTC, the reliability of that equipment hasn’t necessarily been high.

Hullemeyer said equipment failures are to be expected with a project of this magnitude and NS continues to review them.

The story at CSX is similar. It continues to identify software defects during lab and field testing and conditional revenue service operations of its I-ETMS system related to onboard and back office systems.

Kathleen Brandt, CSX’s senior vice president and chief information officer, said much data already is being generated by 63,000 controlled devices more data will flow in after PTC is implemented.

“We estimate we will have 100 million [data] events a day after PTC is implemented,” Brandt said. CSX logs about 20 million data events per day.

In the second quarter of 2019, CSX had completed activation of all 9,670 PTC required route miles on 133 subdivisions. It initiated revenue service operations in five subdivisions during the quarter.

It must achieve interoperability with six other Class Is, eight commuter railroads and seven short lines.

Brandt said CSX likely could finish implementation before the late 2020 deadline if not for interoperability.

“We’re working now as quickly as we can on PTC, given the compatibility issue,” she said.

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