Posts Tagged ‘Positive train control’

Amtrak Wants to Remove Some Block Signals From its Keystone Corridor in Pennsylvania

December 8, 2022

Amtrak is seeking regulatory approval to remove automatic wayside block signals on its line between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

In a notice published in the Federal Register, the Federal Railroad Administration said the passenger carrier cited the existence of a positive train control system on the route as providing enough protection for train operations.

The signals to be removed serve as distant signals to existing interlockings in the Keystone Corridor.

The FRA notice said the territory covered by the waiver being sought extends from Park Interlocking at milepost 46.3 and Roy Interlocking at MP 94.3.

 “In its petition, Amtrak explains that formerly, the automatic wayside signals served as distant signals to the existing interlockings. However, as Amtrak has fully implemented PTC, which imposes ‘updated standards for cab, no-wayside signal territory to remove all automatic signals[,] including distant signals,’ Amtrak seeks permission to remove 10 signals (at MPs 55.3, 59.2, 64.5, 66.1, 70.8, 71.8, 81.5, 86.0, 92.3, and 96.4). Amtrak states that the removal of the signals will ‘eliminate maintenance and operation of unnecessary hardware [that is] no longer needed.’” The FRA notice said.\

Amtrak owns the line although some Norfolk Southern freight trains also use it.

The notice said NORAC Rules will remain in effect and there “will be no changes to operating practices because of this modification.”

Amtrak told regulators the cab signal system without fixed automatic block signals and positive train control systems will continue to enforce train speed and positive train stops under normal operations.

If the cab signal system fails, PTC will continue to prevent train-to-train collisions through enforcement of positive train stop at interlocking signals when all tracks are not clear to the next interlocking with a permissive signal, Amtrak said.

In the event of a PTC failure, the cab control system will continue to enforce restricted speed in approach to occupied blocks and stop signals. If both system fails, trains must follow the operating rules currently in place.

Amtrak said it would start removing the signals upon receiving FRA approval, a project expected to take up to two years.

The FRA said in its notice that it does not anticipate scheduling a public hearing “since the facts do not appear to warrant a hearing.”

FRA Revises Rules on PTC Reporting

July 31, 2021

The Federal Railroad Administration has revised its rules governing changes to positive train control systems and railroad reporting on PTC system performance.

In a notice published July 27 in the Federal Register, the FRA said it recognizes the railroad industry intends to enhance FRA-certified PTC systems to continue improving rail safety and PTC technology’s reliability and operability.

The agency said it is changing the process by which a host railroad must submit a request for amendment to the FRA before the railroad makes changes to its PTC safety plan and FRA-certified PTC system.

The rule also expands an existing reporting requirement by increasing the frequency from annual to biannual.

The change also broadens the reporting requirement to encompass positive performance-related information, including about the technology’s positive impact on rail safety, not just failure-related information.

The new rules will go into effect on Aug. 26.

NS Official Calls ‘One-Person Crews’ a Misnomer

May 20, 2021

A Norfolk Southern executive this week sought to reframe what the railroad industry is seeking in talks with its unions about crew size.

Mark George, the railroad’s chief financial officer argued that railroads are not seeking one-person crews but rather want to conduct crew redeployment.

It is not that railroads want to eliminate conductors, he said in a speech to an investor’s conference, but rather railroads want to change the nature of their jobs, including taking some of them out of locomotive cabs.

 Saying the phrase “one-person crew” is a misnomer and has served as a lightning rod of controversy, George said, “The reality is this is about crew redeployment.

“Technology has rendered the role of a conductor in the cab itself unnecessary,” he said. “So what we would like to see is ground-based conductor positions.

 “We think that that’s better for all stakeholders, including the crew people themselves to be on the ground as opposed to stuck in the cab. So that is definitely an area that we’d like to continue to push.”

Class 1 railroads such as NS are seeking to have conductors be responsible for several trains in their territories.

The proposal is the subject of national negotiations with labor unions, which have largely opposed the concept.

Railroads contend that the use of positive train control has made operations safer by reducing human error.

In his remarks, George said railroad want to redeploy conductors in territories where PTC or its technological equivalent has been installed.

He said this would enable railroads to “take full advantage of new investments in modern technology . . . and better align operational costs with other industries.”

The advantage to railroad crew members, railroad officials have said, is that more of them would be able to spend their nights at home after their shift is over rather than at a hotel.

George said negotiations over crew issues are expected to conclude for another couple of year.

PTC No Longer on NTSB List

April 8, 2021

For the first time in years installation and implementation of positive train control does not appear on the most wanted list of improvements being sought by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The 2021-2011 list does mention more than 100 safety recommendations associated with the 10 mode-specific safety improvements.

In a news release the NTSB said only one item addresses railroads.

Regulators want to see rail worker safety improved although they have not yet to determine what they want to see.

Collisions Were in Decline Before PTC Widely was Installed

January 19, 2021

The National Transportation Safety Board has for years lobbied for the implementation of positive train control as a way of reducing if not eliminating train collisions.

The agency last week celebrated the completion of PTC implementation on much of the nation’s railroad system.

All railroads that were required by federal law to have PTC had installed, tested and begun using a PTC system by the end of 2020.

However, an analysis by Trains magazine using Federal Railroad Administration data shows that even before PTC was switched on the railroad industry had made giant strides toward reducing collisions.

Collisions on railroad mainlines declined by 91 percent between 1975 and 2018. The analysis found the number of derailments attributed to a train exceeding the speed limit also declined during that period.

Data from the FRA’s Office of Safety show that in 1975 there were 244 mainline collisions, representing 41 percent of the 588 mainline collisions that occurred over the 45 years through 2020.

Mainline collisions had fallen to 100 in 1985 and 77 in 1995. There were 79 mainline collisions in 2005 but just 19 in 2015.

Preliminary data shows four mainline collisions occurred last year.

“With or without PTC, railroad operating practices have come a long way,” FRA Administrator Ronald Batory said.

 “The numbers speak for themselves. And now that we have PTC there’s further risk reduction.”

Batory said among the actions that railroads have taken in the past three decades that have made operations safer are reducing the use of train orders, improving locomotive engineer training and certification, instilling more disciplined operations, and adopting smaller crew sizes.

He expects the railroad industry to continue to become a safer place in coming years as carriers improve their PTC systems. That will include making PTC technology more comprehensive and robust.

Nonetheless, NTSB members who participated in a webcast last week told of how they have investigated numerous collisions over the years that could have been prevented by PTC.

NTSB member Jennifer Homendy said that included 154 accidents that led to 305 deaths and 6,883 injured railroad workers and passengers.

Former NTSB Chairman James Hall said it took a “tombstone mentality” to persuade Congress to adopt a law mandating PTC.

Many say the trigger event was a 2008 California collision between a Metrolink commuter train and a Union Pacific freight that left 25 dead.

PTC systems are now active on 58,000 route-miles, primarily those that handle passengers and hazardous materials.

The systems are designed to prevent train-to-train collisions, overspeed derailments, incursions into established work zones, and movements through switches left in the wrong position.

NTSB Checks Off 3 PTC Recommendations

January 16, 2021

With the nation’s railroads having met a late 2020 deadline to install and begin using positive train control systems, the National Transportation Safety Board has checked three key PTC safety requirements off its to do list.

Those recommendations to Canadian National, CSX and Chicago commuter carrier Metra were related to equipping their trains with a PTC system.

In a news release, the NTSB said its recommendations to those railroads will be classified as “closed — acceptable action.”

The NTSB has long made installation of PTC one of its top priorities and it was shown on its 2019-2020 Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements.

The NTSB had recommended that CSX install a PTC system after a February 1996, collision between Amtrak and Maryland Rail Commuter passenger trains operating on CSX tracks near Silver Spring, Maryland, that left three crew members and eight passengers dead..

The Metra recommendation followed an October 2003 derailment that injured 47 and occurred as a train traveled 68 mph in a 10 mph zone.

The CN recommendation followed a head-on collision in July 2004 at Anding, Mississippi, that left four crew members dead.

“I’ve seen up close the devastation and heartbreak a rail catastrophe brings,” said NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt. “We will silently mark our success with every train crash prevented, every life saved by this technology.”

FRA Proposes PTC Reporting Rule Change

December 31, 2020

Rule changes that would affect reporting about positive train control systems have been published by the Federal Railroad Administration in the Federal Register.

The proposed changes would revise regulations that govern changes to PTC systems and reporting on PTC functioning.

The agency has proposed having a host railroad submit a request for amendment to the FRA before making certain changes to a PTC safety plan and FRA-certified PTC system.

Agency officials said the changes recognize that the railroad industry intends to enhance PTC systems to continue to improve safety.

The agency also is seeking to expand an existing reporting requirement by increasing the frequency from annual to biannual; broaden the reporting requirement to encompass positive performance-related information, not just failure-related information; and require host railroads to use a new standardized biannual report on PTC system performance.

Public comment on the changes is due by Feb. 16.

FRA Says All Railroads Reached PTC Finish Line

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 route 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.

All Railroads Have Met PTC Deadline

December 26, 2020

All U.S. railroads have met the federal deadline for certification of their positive train control systems.

The last carrier to meet the Dec. 31 deadline was New Jersey Transit, which crossed the finish line on Dec. 18.

The federal mandate that certain rail lines have a PTC system dates to 2008 the followed in the wake of a collision in Los Angeles between a Metrolink commuter train and a Union Pacific freight train. That collision left 25 dead.

The original deadline for implementation of PTC had been Dec. 31, 2015, but it was pushed back to 2020 after the railroad industry said that wasn’t enough time to develop, install and field test PTC hardware and software.

The Association of American Railroads has said Class1 railroads have spent $11.47 billion to implement PTC while Amtrak and commuter railroads have spent billions more.

The railroad industry is using nine groups of PTC systems, all of which had to be approved by the Federal Railroad Administration.

Amtrak OIG Says PTC Systems Could be More Reliable

December 17, 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.