Posts Tagged ‘PTC deadline’

Amtrak Holding Firm on PTC View

April 12, 2018

Amtrak is doubling down on an assertion made earlier this year to Congress by its CEO Richard Anderson that it will not operate on routes that are required to have positive train control but which fail to make the deadline to installing it.

Amtrak’s executive vice president and chief commercial officer, Stephen Gardner, told a House Appropriations Committee hearing that Amtrak still has not decided if it will use routes that are not required to have PTC.

Gardner said the passenger carrier continues to study whether it can safely operate on PTC-exempt routes, which tend to be on regional railroads.

He acknowledged during the hearing that Amtrak’s Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief might be adversely affected by the PTC issue.

However, Gardner qualified his testimony by suggesting that Amtrak might use routes that receive an extension from the Federal Railroad Administration of the Dec. 31, 2018, PTC deadline that is mandated by federal law.

As did Anderson, Gardner said there will be segments of routes used by Amtrak over which the carrier won’t operate if a PTC waiver has not been obtained by the host railroad.

“ . . . We believe PTC is part of a modern passenger rail system and we want to see PTC levels of safety across our network. We’re going to be analyzing those areas where safety improvements can be made,” Gardner said.

When pressed by Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-California) about the Southwest Chief, Gardner said Amtrak “will provide service on the portions of the route that have PTC, but there may be parts of our network where we believe PTC is required – if that route has high operating speeds – and we want to make sure we have a single level of safety across our network.”

Gardner said Amtrak route safety assessment will conclude this summer.

The Southwest Chief route is required to have PTC between Albuquerque and Lamy, New Mexico, where Amtrak shares tracks with Rail Runner commuter trains.

However, the route between Lamy and Trinidad, Colorado, is exempted. The former Santa Fe route used by the Chief across Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico has an automatic train stop system that dates from the 1920s.

It requires a locomotive engineer to acknowledge any restrictive signal indication or suffer a penalty brake application.

Gardner also took a shot at Amtrak’s host railroads for creating an “existential crisis” by delaying its trains through freight train interference.

He called for legislation allowing Amtrak to sue host railroads over failure to give passenger trains dispatching priority.

Asked why Amtrak is giving up special trains and restricting its carriage of private passenger cars, Gardner said the carrier is restricting the number of places that it operates to its core network.

He noted that some specials and charters have used routes not covered by scheduled Amtrak trains and that any additional revenue it made from those moves caused “a minimum amount of disruption and distraction away from our core business.”

He said going off network exposed Amtrak to new operating challenges and safety risks.

Gardner said Amtrak’s goal is to offer services on its current routes “where we can use equipment that we are confident in and the requirements on our end are manageable, not a distraction, and do not divert our core staff from the job of becoming fully PTC implemented, focusing on improving on-time performance, and providing great customer service.”

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South Shore to Start PTC Testing

April 5, 2018

The South Shore commuter line in Indiana will begin live testing of its positive train control system next week.

The Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, which oversees the commuter service between Chicago and South Bend, Indiana, said PTC testing will be conducted throughout its entire network.

South Shore trains are using Interoperable Train Management System software and hardware designed by Wabtec of Wilmerding, Pennsylvania.

Last December, the South Shore told the Federal Railroad Administration that it had equipped just 19 of its 73 locomotives and cab cars with PTC equipment.

It also said at the time that it had not completed testing sufficient to qualify for an FRA extension beyond the federal Dec. 31, 2018, deadline for PTC installation.

FRA Provides PTC Installation Update

March 22, 2018

The Federal Railroad Administration said this week that positive train control is in operation on 56 percent of freight railroad route miles that are required to have it.

However, PTC is only in use on 24 percent of passenger railroads.

Fifteen railroads have completed installing the hardware for PTC operation while 11 have in place more than 80 percent of the needed equipment. All but three railroads have sufficient spectrum for their PTC needs.

FRA officials met in January and February with executives from the 41 railroads required to have PTC to evaluate the status of PTC installation on each.

“It is the railroads’ responsibility to meet the congressionally mandated PTC requirements,” said FRA Administrator Ronald Batory in a statement. “The FRA is committed to doing its part to ensure railroads and suppliers are working together to implement PTC systems.”

The FRA said its staff is meeting with PTC suppliers to learn more about their capacity to meet demand for railroads’ PTC implementation “in a timely manner.”

APTA Head Says Some Commuter Railroads Won’t Make the PTC Deadline Later This Year

March 21, 2018

The president of the American Public Transportation Association said this week that some commuter railroads are going have a difficult time meeting a federally-mandated Dec. 31 deadline to install positive train control.

“[Transit] agencies are working at their best to advance and meet this deadline,” said Paul Skoutelas. “It is clear that some are going to struggle with it. I think we’re going to see a good number meet the deadline, others that are going to be behind.”

Skoutelas spoke at a news conference during APTA’s 2018 legislative conference, which was attended by more than 500 transit officials.

He said Congress and the public need to understand the complexity involved with making PTC work, which includes working with what work host freight railroads have completed and assuring interoperability with freight lines and Amtrak.

“All of these agencies have had to rearrange their capital budgets to free up money for positive train control,” Skoutelas said adding that money being spent on PTC could have been used for such things as bridge replacement and track rehabilitation.

“It’s a lot to do in a short period of time,” said David Genova, general manager of Denver’s Regional Transit District. “There aren’t very many designers and manufacturers of these systems. The capacity to get all of this work done in a short period of time is incredibly challenging.”

Federal Railroad Administration data showed that as of last Sept. 30 PTC  preparedness among commuter systems ranged from nearly 100 percent to zero.

This week the Department of Transportation said that a more recent report shows that commuter railroads have progressed little in the past three months.

Batory Empathetic to RR PTC Plight

March 8, 2018

New Federal Railroad Administration chief Ronald L Batory plans to take an empathetic approach in dealing with railroads and the looming Dec. 31 deadline for them to install positive train control.

He estimated that Class 1 railroads and Amtrak have completed between 80 to 90 percent of the necessary installation of equipment, but acknowledged that among commuter railroads the outlook is more mixed.

Some transit agencies have finished PTC installation but others have yet to start.

In an interview with Trains magazine, Batory said he is inclined to give railroads the benefit of the doubt for now.

“The FRA took on a mission before my arrival to shepherd the to-be-compliant PTC railroads to fulfill what’s set forth in the statutes,” he said. “It’s definitely a concern, but we can’t do it for them.”

Batory noted that he told Congress during his confirmation hearings that he would be fair and unbiased and “bring my knowledge base and do what’s right.

“And to speak to them with facts. If I make an expression, it’s an opinion that’s developed over time, based on institutional knowledge.”

While awaiting Senate confirmation, Batory sat in on the 41 meetings that FRA officials had with railroads regarding their PTC installation progress.

He said the key to working with the railroads is candor. The FRA spelled out its expectations and he asked railroad leaders to be likewise candid.

“It was very enlightening for us, and it was helpful for many of those who disclosed where they were, where they think they’re going to be by year’s end, and what obstacles they envision,” he says.

For now, though, Batory said he will not discuss the consequences railroads will face for missing the Dec. 31 deadline.

“I really want to see it get accomplished, and it will get accomplished,” he said. “It won’t be anything we did at FRA by ourselves, it will get accomplished by all 41 railroads. I’m thinking about all 41 railroads, what each one of them are doing, and what level of urgency they’re doing it. It’s not a matter of just doing it, it’s doing it right.”

GAO Reports Says 7 to 19 Commuter Railroads Won’t Meet PTC Deadline, Qualify for Waiver

March 1, 2018

Two-thirds of U.S. commuter railroads are likely to miss the Dec. 31 deadline to install positive train control, the Government Accountability Office said in a report released on Wednesday.

The GAO report said under the current law those transit agencies may not be eligible for a deadline extension, either.

Seven to 19 U.S. commuter railroads have not given their workers enough time to complete six milestones required by the Federal Railroad Administration to qualify for waivers for full positive train control operation.

That waiver allows a railroad that is required to have PTC in place by Dec. 31 to get an extension of up to Dec. 31, 2020. The six milestones are:

•Installing all necessary PTC system hardware.
•Acquiring all necessary radio spectrum.
•Completing the required employee training.
•Submitting to the FRA an alternate implementation schedule.
•Certifying that a railroad will comply with the law according to the alternative schedule.
•Operating a revenue service demonstration on at least one territory where PTC will be required.

The latter requirement is causing the biggest problems for commuter railroads, the GAO report said, because it can take one to three years from the beginning of field tests, during which trains are not relying on PTC systems, but are connected to the systems, to the start of revenue demonstrations.

Seven commuter railroads can’t begin testing until June, which leaves them at risk of failing to qualify for a waiver.

The report does not name the railroads that are likely to miss the PTC deadline.

As for why the railroads are struggling to comply with the law, the GAO report cited a variety of factors, including a lack of expertise, scheduling difficulties, lack of coordination between host railroads (often Class I freight railroads) and commuter lines, as well as FRA’s capacity to handle the work load.

The GAO recommended that the FRA create a standard way to send information to railroads on deadline extension criteria and processes.

It also suggested that the FRA set up a priority system for how it will allocate personnel and resources to process an expected increase in paperwork that railroads submit, as well as assist those railroads that need technical assistance.

Thus far, the FRA has been releasing information in informal ways, including presentations at industry conferences and webinars, rather than through formal, published documents.

The GAO found that the FRA has only 12 staffers who have the skills needed to review the PTC paperwork submitted by the railroads.

An FRA spokesperson told Trains magazine that it plans to hold meeting with executives of all 41 railroads required to have PTC installed this year to assess their challenges and implementation plans.

Information gleaned from those meetings will be used to conduct oversight of railroads’ PTC activities.

The Politics of PTC

February 21, 2018

Much has been said during the past two months about positive train control, but one of the more interesting comments came from Bennett Levin, the owner of a pair of E8A locomotives painted in the livery of the Pennsylvania Railroad.

Levin told Trains magazine that he couldn’t afford the six-figure cost per unit to outfit his locomotives with a PTC device. Instead, he’ll probably sideline them.

Referring to a 2008 federal law that mandates PTC on many railroad routes, Levin described the requirement as “unfortunate and untimely” and suggested the requirement might not exist had a Metrolink commuter train engineer been doing his job instead of texting on his cell phone in the minutes before his train ran past a red signal and crashed head-on with a Union Pacific freight train in Los Angeles, an incident that left 25 dead.

Levin’s comments probably reflect the thinking of others in the railroad industry but it would not be good public relations, let alone good politics, for them to make similar comments.

The Association of American Railroads recently held a press briefing in which it fired an opening salvo on behalf of railroads likely to ask the Federal Railroad Administration for an extension of time to meet the PTC mandate.

The AAR expressed confidence that U.S. railroads will comply with the PTC deadline of
Dec. 31, but an AAR official later said it won’t be known until summer which railroads might seek an extension of time to install PTC.

Those requests for more time might not sit well with some at the FRA, the U.S. Department of Transportation or Congress.

The railroad trade group also was laying the groundwork for future fights concerning PTC by expressing concern that the FRA will micromanage PTC systems once they are in place and operating.

That concern is not without merit given the statements that have been coming virtually nonstop from the National Transportation Safety Board and Congress in the wake of three high profile accidents since December involving Amtrak trains that resulted in fatalities.

In two of those, the NTSB has said that had PTC been operating at the time, the accident likely would have been avoided.

Given what we know about the facts of those three Amtrak collisions, human error was at the root of all of them. The implication is that in at least two of those accidents technology could have overcome human foibles.

Perhaps, but the AAR also made the point during that news conference that PTC is not the magic bullet for rail safety that many are making it out to be. AAR Senior Vice President for Safety and Operations Mike Rush cited a 2005 study that found only 4 percent of mainline accidents could have been prevented by PTC.

Of course safety is paramount advocates will counter that one life lost is one too many.

It is hard to argue against that, yet far more people lose their lives in highway accidents than are killed in railroad accidents and we don’t see a movement to install some form of PTC on highways, the move toward self-driving vehicles notwithstanding.

Most highway fatalities don’t make the national news, only the local news and even then they might not get that much attention, let alone the type of lasting attention needed to prompt policy makers into action.

Society has become numbed by the high number of road fatalities, but expects the government to do something about accidents involving public transportation.

Make no mistake about it. Implementation of PTC is as much a political issue as it is a safety issue.

People who own railroad companies and, for that matter, airline companies, trucking companies, water transportation companies, bus companies, et. al, don’t like being told how to run their business. They don’t like being pushed around by government regulators and policy makers.

During the AAR news conference, Rush tried to make the case that PTC would likely have come about anyway without the government mandate.

He said the industry has spent decades researching PTC and conducted trials, one of which ended in failure.

But all of that got short circuited by the 2008 government mandate. Since then, the railroad industry has invested $10 billion in PTC and figures to spend millions if not billions more in maintaining it.

We’ll never know what the railroad industry would have come up with had it been left to its own devices in developing PTC. Nor will we ever know how many railroads would have installed PTC voluntarily on how much of their networks.

What we do know is that so long as public transportation conveyances continue to have accidents that leave people dead, there will continue to be government regulators and private citizen lobby groups trying to push the transportation industry around by telling them what to do to make travel safer.

House Committee Lays Down Law on PTC Laggards

February 16, 2018

The railroad industry was put on notice Thursday that it will meet the Dec. 31 deadline to install positive train control or suffer the consequences.

The message was given by members of the House of Representatives’ Transportation and Infrastructure Committee during a hearing to review progress on implementing PTC systems.

“The American public is tired of excuses. It’s life-saving technology, but it’s also very complex. We want to get it done quickly, by this deadline, but we also want to get it done right,” said Jeff Denham of California and chairman of the T&I subcommittee that oversees railroads.

Presiding over the hearing, Denham said there have been too many deaths that PTC could have prevented.

“It’s not going to solve all of our challenges but as all in the industry agree, it moves our industry to the next level,” Denham said.

The ranking Democrat on the committee, Michael Capuano of Massachusetts, said the committee was trying to be reasonable, noting that Congress agreed nearly three years ago to extend the original December 2015 deadline to December 2018.

“But 2018 is real and there is not a single person [on the committee] who’s going to quietly accept the next accident after that deadline,” he said.

The two-hour hearing reviewed technological and policy issues that the railroad industry faces in implementing PTC.

Under prodding from committee members, Federal Railroad Administration Acting Deputy Administrator Juan D. Reyes III said his agency has met with 41 railroads since the first of the year and would soon be making comments on the implementation plans the railroads have submitted.

Denham said that although some carriers have put PTC in place quickly some have yet to begin. “We are well aware there are some that will never get there by the end of the year,” Denham said.

However, some of those who have been slow to respond have not started, have failed thus far to ask for an extension and haven’t sought some of the $31 billion in low-cost Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing loans available for PTC implementation.

In particular, committee members from New Jersey and New York were critical of the lack of progress by New Jersey Transit.

Reyes said the FRA has begun fining railroads that had not kept pace with their implementation plans, calling that “a shot across the bow to tell them we’re serious and  . . . we’re going to push them to get this implemented.”

Denham said he supported in principle a bill sponsored by Capuano and U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon, that would prohibit the FRA from extending PTC deadlines beyond Dec. 31.

“This has gone on for 10 years now. It ought to be very obvious what needs to be done,” Denham said. “Safety is first in all of our transportation, but as of late there have been too many accidents, and we can do better.”

Amtrak Won’t Use Lines Without PTC

February 16, 2018

Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson told a congressional committee on Thursday that the passenger carrier will not operate over tracks that are not compliant with positive train control laws.

Anderson made the comments in testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives’ Transportation and Infrastructure committee, which was holding a hearing on PTC and its implementation.

He said that Amtrak will need to consider whether it should operate over freight railroads that have waivers from the FRA on their PTC installations.

In instances in which Amtrak uses rails where a railroad is required to install PTC yet has not made insufficient progress to apply for a waiver, “Amtrak will suspend operations until such time as the carrier becomes compliant with the law,” Anderson said.

Federal law requires railroads hosting passenger trains to have PTC in place by the end of this year.

The mandate is part of the Railroad Safety Improvement Act of 2008. The original PTC installation deadline was Dec. 31, 2015, but Congress extended it to Dec. 31, 2018, or in certain circumstances to 2020.

PTC is also required on routes that lack passenger service but which carry 5 million gross tons annually.

Cost of Installing PTC May Sideline PRR E8A Locomotives from Mainline Excursion Service

February 16, 2018

Two former Pennsylvania Railroad E8A passenger locomotives are likely to be sidelined once positive train control systems are switched on.

Bennett Levin, who owns Tuscan red Nos. 5711 and 5809 told Trains magazine that the cost of PTC to prohibitive for two diesels that are used only about twice a year.

“Based on what we know at this time, there’s no practical way to continue,” he said.

Levin estimated the cost of installing PTC at six figures per unit. “Nobody is going to spend that kind of money,” Levin said in reference to mainline passenger excursions.

He also said another potential stumbling block is uncertainty about the future of private car operations on Amtrak.

The last road trip for the Pennsy units may be this May when they pull an excursion being sponsored by the Pennsylvania Railroad Technical & Historical Society.

That trip will run from Philadelphia to Altoona, Pennsylvania, on May 9 for the group’s 50th annual convention. The train of parlor cars will return on May 13.

Congress in 2008 mandated that railroad lines hosting passengers service and/or hazardous cargo must have a PTC system. The deadline for installing the systems is Dec. 31.

Levin described that mandate as “unfortunate and untimely.”

Calling it an unfunded Congressional mandate, Levin said it would not exist had the locomotive engineer of a California commuter train that collided with a Union Pacific locomotive been doing his job and not using his cell phone just before the collision. That crash helped to prompt the 2008 legislation mandating PTC installation.

The PRR E8A units have passed through Northeast Ohio a handful of times in the past decade and pulled a private car train on the Ohio Central on July 31, 2004, from Dennison to Sugar Creek and return.