Posts Tagged ‘Positive train control’

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.

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FRA Head Seeks Better Communication

June 13, 2018

Federal Railroad Administration Administrator Ron Batory says communication and not litigation is the key to resolving conflicts between passenger and freight trains on shared tracks.

Ron Batory

Batory said that litigation makes communication more challenging.

Speaking to a meeting of the American Public Transportation Association, Batory disputed that there is a void between passenger and freight operations.

“I think that’s because of an absence of communication,” he said.

Batory believes that “a path of commonality can be reached” in which both sides feel a little pain.

“Throughout my entire career, I gave priority to passenger trains, whether in a dispatching office or elsewhere [on the railroad],” Batory said.

Most of Batory’s comments during the session focused on the looming Dec. 31 deadline set by federal law for much of the railroad industry to install positive train control.

He said the FRA has hired additional staff and contractors in anticipation of numerous documents that the FRA will need to review before the deadline.

Railroads that are granted what Batory termed an “alternate schedule” to extend their full implementation deadline to the end of 2020 will have all of 2021 to work out any bugs in their system before facing fines.

FRA Outlines PTC Non Compliance Criteria

June 13, 2018

Although the Federal Railroad Administration has the authority to shut down a railroad for safety reasons, that is not necessarily going to be the consequence for railroads that fail to meet the Dec. 31 deadline to install positive train control.

An FRA executive said the sanctions on railroads that fail to meet the PTC deadline mandated by federal law will be decided by FRA Administrator Ronald Batory.

However, Carolyn Hayward-Williams, staff director of the FRA’s signal and train control division, told a PTC conference that being shut down is not necessarily going to happen because failing to meet the PTC deadline is not a likely criteria to justify ordering a railroad to halt operations.

Speaking to the  the Transport Security Congress’ seventh annual SafeRail conference, Hayward-Williams said railroads that show sufficient progress toward PTC installation may be granted a two-year extension to get their PTC systems up and running.

She said that railroads that fail to meet the criteria for such an extension and continue to operate will be subject to fines and penalties. They are also likely to face higher insurance costs.

Hayward-Williams said many railroads will not need the extension of time to install PTC and that that those that do have a plan to deliver and meet the qualifications for an extension.

The FRA is working with those railroads to help them come into compliance with federal law.

Installation is just one aspect of PTC. The FRA also will be inspecting railroad operations to check if railroads are in compliance with laws and regulations governing PTC operation.

The agency is working with the railroad industry to address how PTC compliance will be enforced.

“The FRA has a large inspection force to ensure compliance with our regulations. PTC introduces a nice little twist for us, given that it’s a performance-based regulation,” Hayward-Williams said. “We ultimately will need to ensure that the railroads meet the requirements in the safety plan, but we aren’t going to be giving all of our inspectors a 5,000-page safety plan to carry around.”

FRA Holding PTC Symposiums

June 8, 2018

A symposium about positive train control will be conducted by the Federal Railroad Administration in Washington on June 15.

During the event, the FRA’s PTC staff will discuss the requirements of the Dec. 31, 2018, statutory deadline to install PTC systems. By law 41 railroads must meet that deadline.

“The PTC Symposium is the latest effort from FRA to ensure that each and every railroad is aware of their obligations and is equipped to meet the congressionally mandated deadline,” said FRA Administrator Ronald L. Batory in a statement.

The FRA also is planning a July 16 symposium to discuss best practices for PTC system field-testing and interoperability testing.

A third meeting on Aug. 20 will cover lessons learned and best practices for PTC Safety Plans, which are necessary for host railroads to obtain PTC System Certification from the agency and to achieve full PTC system implementation under the statutory mandate.

Full implementation of a PTC system means that an FRA-certified and interoperable PTC system – including all hardware, software, and other components – has been fully installed, has been sufficiently tested, and is in operation on all route miles required to have operations governed by a PTC system under the mandate.

Commuter Rails Making PTC Progress

June 1, 2018

The American Public Transportation Association said this week that positive train control is in the testing phase, revenue service demonstration or full operation on 30 percent of the 3,339 miles of commuter rail in the United States.

Commuter railroads have installed 81 percent of the 15,192 pieces of onboard equipment needed for PTC and installed 79 percent of PTC-related track equipment, APTA officials said.

Sixty-one percent of commuter railroad employees have been trained on PTC and 70 percent have the necessary back-office control systems ready for operation.

The commuter railroads have acquired 88 percent of the radio spectrum required for PTC.

In a statement, APTA said that although PTC implementation progress has been steady, commuter railroads have faced “significant financial constraints and technical challenges” in implementing PTC.

Other challenges include diagnosing and resolving software issues, securing track access and achieving PTC interoperability with other railroads.

The cost of PTC installation is expected to exceed $4.1 billion.

Federal law requires railroads to implement PTC systems by Dec. 31. They can qualify for two-year extension if they meet certain requirements, such as installing all PTC hardware, acquiring needed spectrum and training employees.

No Plans to End Long-Distance Trains Amtrak Executives Tell RPA

May 30, 2018

Amtrak executives have pledged to the Rail Passengers Association that the carrier has no plans to discontinue long-distance trains.

The pledge came during a meeting last week between RPA CEO Jim Mathews and Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson and Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer Stephen Gardner.

Anderson said during the meeting that Amtrak will always have long-distance trains and it plans selective upgrades to some long-distance trains. Amtrak will also work to improve meal service aboard all trains.

Writing on the RPA blog, Mathews said that in the wake of the meeting that long-distance trains are no longer targets for elimination for now.

The meeting yielded information about Amtrak’s plans, including selectively upgrading what Anderson termed “epic, experiential” trains such as the Empire Builder and Coast Starlight

Anderson and Gardner also said Amtrak will issue soon a request for proposals to replace the carrier’s diesel locomotives.

Amtrak plans to move quickly to award a contract and begin getting locomotives built and into service.

A similar request for proposals is expected this year about the availability of single-level train sets and diesel multiple units with the aim of getting that equipment under contract and under construction.

This equipment is expected to be used on corridor type service of less than 600 miles and ideally no more than 400 miles.

Gardner described this as a “sweet spot” in which multiple daily frequencies can be offered with an optimized number of train sets so that fares and trip times can be competitive with other modes of transportation.

Although no time frame was given, Amtrak is planning to replaced its Superliner fleet, which Anderson and Gardner described as having reached the end of its reasonable service life.

They acknowledged that Amtrak will not refurbish the interiors of Superliner cars as it has been doing with Amfleet equipment and Acela Express train sets.

Anderson said the Superliners need new frames and therefore management has decided to replace the cars rather than rebuild them.

In a side note, Anderson and Gardner said the refurbishment of Amfleet I cars is nearly finished.

RPA has pressed Amtrak about its food service in the wake of an announcement in April that the carrier would on April 1 eliminate full-service dining on the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited in favor of cold meals for sleeping car passengers.

The Amtrak executives said that plan was always considered an experiment and the passenger carrier expects to introduce at least one hot meal offering at some point.

They said Amtrak wants to improve its food service system-wide and is prepared to spend money to do it.

Gardner said that in time Amtrak will upgrade its menus on the Capitol and Lake Shore and offer coach passengers the opportunity to buy meals from that menu in the diner or elsewhere.

In the meantime, Amtrak is seeking to renegotiate its food contracts, upgrade the quality of the food available, and implement a program for passengers to choose their meals ahead of time.

Once chosen, passengers will able to eat their meals when and where they want to eat, whether it be in a dining car, in their room or at their seat.

Amtrak also wants to go cashless, an idea that the carrier has discussed before but never implemented. On-board personnel will be given portable devices to charge passengers for food and beverages.

In a related development, Gardner said the new CAF diners sitting at the Hialeah shops near Miami will soon be in service. He said they are awaiting parts and modification.

Anderson and Gardner elaborated on their congressional testimony about the possibility that Amtrak will not operate on rail lines that are required to have positive train control by late this year but on which the equipment has not been installed.

Gardner said this is not a strategy to discontinue trains or routes, but rather a temporary action until PTC is installed.

Anderson indicated during the meeting that he is laser-focused on implementing an airline-style safety management system by the end of the year, which he said is required of Amtrak by FRA regulation following the National Transportation Safety Board’s implementation recommendation.

He said he has found that freight railroads have a “risk-tolerant” mindset by which “they’re perfectly willing to accept that they’ll wreck a train every three years.”

SMS has been used by airlines to assess individual risks to safe operation and identify specific mitigation steps for each risk.

Anderson said SMS has been proven in the aviation world to not only improve safety but to continuously drive down incidents and risk.

Amtrak plans to identify a range of ways to reach “PTC-equivalent” levels of safety in areas that aren’t fully PTC-compliant.

This includes such steps as issuing slow orders and spiking or blocking facing-point switches for mainline movement.

Different technologies will be deployed to assure accurate train location, sending the conductor up to the head end or, failing everything else, using buses to move passengers around an affected track segment.

Mathews wrote that his take away from the meeting is that that the nature of Amtrak service will evolve and change over time, but that the carrier is pursuing a growth strategy whose objective is to serve more Americans rather than fewer.

“In any case, the long-term shape of the national network will be determined by Congress, which makes the upcoming reauthorization of the surface transportation bill even more important to RPA and its members,” Mathews wrote.

Squires Extols Benefits of PTC

May 18, 2018

Positive train control is the backbone of technological advances that are coming to the railroad industry said Norfolk Southern CEO James A. Squires this week at a shippers’ conference.

James Squires

Speaking to the American Rail Shippers’ 2018 meeting in Chicago, Squires said technology and free trade will bring major changes to the rail industry.

“We are on the verge of an exciting new era of innovation,” Squires said. “PTC is a big new communications network we can use for a variety of purposes. We are only just beginning to discover the many uses of data collected through the PTC network.”

Squires also said that a big data wave is already rolling across the industry and it will result in automation that will evolve to reduce human error.“

Automation in transportation is perceived as controversial, yet it happened long ago in aviation. He said a railroad in Australia has already demonstrated the benefits of automation.

Facing a Dec. 31 deadline under federal law to install PTC and its components, Squires said NS has completed 78 percent of locomotive installations, 93 percent of wayside unit installations, 97 percent of radio tower installations, and 87 percent of employee training.

“We’re gonna get it done,” he said.

As for free trade, Squires said the United States must not turn away from the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he said creates jobs for American workers.

“NAFTA remains one of the most successful free trade agreements ever brokered by U.S. lawmakers,” Squires said, adding that international markets “must remain open for business.”

FRA Sees Progress in PTC Installation, but Not Interoperability

May 18, 2018

America’s Class 1 railroads and Amtrak continue to make good progress in installing and implementing positive train control, but the railroad industry as a whole has made very little progress in PTC interoperability.

The Federal Railroad Administration recently released a progress summary for the first quarter of 2018 that showed many commuter rail lines face a tall order in meeting a Dec. 31 PTC installation deadline.

Testifying before a Senate appropriations subcommittee, FRA Administrator Ronald Batory said 12 of the 41 railroads that are required implement PTC may miss the deadline for equipment installation, or apply for an alternative schedule.

Interoperability refers to the ability of one railroad’s PTC system to communicate with other systems when more than one railroad operates on the same track.

The FRA has indicated that it will be closely watching interoperability progress during the remainder of the year.

BNSF leads Class I railroads in PTC installation with all locomotives and wayside hardware installed and all employees trained.

It also has 17 percent of its interoperability completed whereas no other major railroad has begun to implement interoperability capability.

CSX has 66 track segments operating with PTC and has finished PTC training for employees.

Amtrak has put PTC in operation on two-thirds of the route miles it owns on the Northeast Corridor and in Michigan. It has interoperability with two of 20 railroads.

“The majority of issues are among commuter railroads,” Batory told the Senate committee.

He explained that commuter railroads have lagged because of a demand crunch.

Although legislation requiring PTC was adopted in 2008, development of PTC systems came slowly and by 2014 16 railroads had never contacted PTC vendors.

Batory said turnover in leadership at commuter rail agencies also slowed progress toward meeting the PTC deadline.

“Sustained leadership committed to the 2008 and 2015 statutes is paramount, and that’s what we’ve seen among the Class I railroad community, as well as unique commuter agencies such as [Los Angeles-based] Metrolink and [Philadelphia-based] SEPTA.”

Both the Southern California Regional Rail Authority and Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority reported full PTC compliance as of March 31.

FRA Has Grants for PTC Support

May 17, 2018

The Federal Railroad Administration is taking applications for $250 million in grants to help fund installation of positive train control on freight, intercity passenger and commuter railroads.

Recipients of the grants may use them for back-office systems; wayside, communications and onboard hardware equipment; software; equipment installation; spectrum; any component, testing and training for the implementation of PTC systems; and interoperability.

Applications will be due by 45 days after a program notice is published in the Federal Register.

In the meantime, the agency said that railroads continue progress toward meeting a Dec. 31, 2018, deadline for PTC installation set by federal law.

During the first quarter of 2018 14 railroads reported they’ve installed 100 percent of the hardware necessary for PTC  as of March 31.

Six other railroads — Altamont Corridor Express, Central Florida Rail Corridor (Sunrail), Consolidated Rail Corp. (Conrail), Maryland Area Regional Commuter (MARC), MTA Metro-North Railroad and South Florida Regional Transportation Authority (Tri-Rail) — increased their percentage of hardware installation by more than 10 percent.

However, passenger railroads have made less progress, with PTC in operation on just 25 percent of required route miles.

The FRA said that is up just 1 percent from the previous quarter.

Herzog to Help Short Lines with PTC

May 11, 2018

Herzog Technologies will provide positive train control support to members of the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association through its Herzog Hosting solution.

This will entail providing back office support and  assisting railroads with implementation of interoperable PTC systems

ALSLRRA President Linda Bauer Darr said the services are being offered to members who must have PTC per federal regulation or as required by their Class I railroad partners.

“The implementation of PTC is one of the most complex and challenging projects to be mandated for the U.S. rail system, particularly for our short line members, who often do not have the technical staff and expertise, but have a complicated role to play integrating with multiple Class I systems,” Darr said.

Herzog will provide real-time information regarding train movement, speed restrictions, train position and speed, and the state of signal and switch devices to be shared between trains, rail wayside devices and back office applications.

Under the agreement, railroads will be able to select from additional Herzog services, including startup support, compliance, training and in-service testing.