Posts Tagged ‘PTC’

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.

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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.

Ex-NTSB Head Says Accidents Will Continue to Occur Until PTC is Installed and Implemented

February 13, 2018

A former head of the National Transportation Safety Board believes that accidents such as the one that killed two Amtrak crew members in South Carolina on Feb. 4 will continue until positive train control is fully installed and implemented.

Deborah Hersman said in an interview with Trains magazine that two recent derailments involving Amtrak that resulted in fatalities could have been prevented had PTC been in place at the time of the accidents.

Hersman said those accidents are especially frustrating because PTC is designed to prevent head-on collisions and speed-related incidents.

Excessive speed figured in a December derailment of an Amtrak Cascades train in Washington State while a misaligned switch has been implicated in the head-on crash of the southbound Silver Star with a parked CSX auto rack train.

“History just keeps repeating itself and we’re not learning from past mistakes fast enough to save lives,” she said.

Hersman was appointed to the NTSB in 2004. She was named chair of the board in 2009. Since 2014, she had served as president and CEO of the National Safety Council.

In the interview with Trains, Hersman noted that the NTSB has been calling for the implementation of PTC since 1990.

She said the number of accidents that might have been avoided had PTC been in place has continue to grow.

Following a head-on collision between a Los Angeles commuter train and a Union Pacific train in 2008, Congress adopted legislation requiring Class I railroad mainlines that haul hazardous materials or routes with regularly scheduled passenger service to have PTC.

The deadline was to have been at the end of 2016, but was extended by Congress to the end of 2018.

By law railroads required to have PTC must show that they have installed it by the end of this year. Failing that, they must show they have made substantial progress to seek an extension to 2020, something Hersman said would be disingenuous.

“We keep kicking the can down the road,” she said. “The pressure is on in the next 10 months because having PTC close to being installed is not close enough.”

Chao Prods Railroads to Finish PTC Work

January 4, 2018

The U.S. Department of Transportation is leaning on railroads to finish installation and implementation of positive train control by the end of the year.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao wrote to the chiefs of Class Is, intercity passenger railroads and state and local transit agencies to prod them into meeting the Dec. 31, 2018, deadline set by federal law.

Chao expressed concern that many railroads are behind schedule in implementing PTC.

She said the Federal Railroad Administration will work with railroads “to help create an increased level of urgency to underscore the imperative of meeting existing timeline expectations for rolling out this critical rail safety technology.”

In 2008 Congress adopted legislation requiring PTC with a deadline of Dec. 31, 2015. That deadline later was moved to the end of 2018 although in certain circumstances the deadline could be the end of 2020.

PTC Progress Has Been Uneven

December 28, 2017

Less than a quarter of passenger rail lines have positive train control systems in operation on the track that they own, the Federal Railroad Administration has reported.

The FRA said freight railroads have implanted PTC on 45 percent of their route miles that are required to have it.

The figures show progress through Sept. 30. The FRA has given conditional certification to eight of 37 railroads required to implement PTC by a Dec. 31, 2018, deadline. There are 41 railroads that must meet that deadline.

The FRA report showed that 68 percent of freight and 50 percent of passenger locomotive fleets have PTC controls. It also showed that 82 percent of freight and 66 percent of passenger railroad employees have received PTC training.

Among freight railroads, BNSF has made the most progress while among transit systems the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority is nearly ready.

A handful of railroads have reported making little to no progress in installing and implementing PTC.

PTC Grants Awarded to Passenger Rail Projects

June 2, 2017

Grants to help commuter and intercity passenger railroads install positive train control systems were awarded this week for 17 projects in 13 states.

The funding was awarded by the Federal Railroad Administration and the Federal Transit Administration and will help the railroads to meet a federal Dec. 31, 2018, deadline to install PTC.

The agencies said they received 27 eligible applications requesting $455 million, which was more than double the funds authorized by Congress.

The FRA was responsible for selecting the grant recipients with the FTA awarding the funds.

Authorized under the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, the grants will be used to install PTC technology, including back office systems and wayside, communications, and onboard hardware equipment associated with railroads’ PTC systems.

None of the grant recipients are located in Ohio. Projects in nearby states included:

•  $18.87 million to the Illinois Department of Transportation to complete the design, delivery, installation and testing of a fully integrated I-ETMS PTC system on two routes for Amtrak’s  use on 14.7 route miles of Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis right-of-way in St. Louis on the Illinois and Missouri banks of the Mississippi River.
• $20.2 million to Metra in Chicago for three subprojects on Metra’s Commuter Rail Division to implement wayside PTC signals, reconfigure signals, and upgrade an existing PTC automatic block signaling systems on the railroad’s Milwaukee District West and North lines in Chicago.
•  $12.02 million to the Missouri Department of Transportation to design, install, and test a fully integrated and functional I-ETMS PTC system over 8.5 route miles of Kansas City Terminal Railway right-of-way where Amtrak operates in the Kansas City area.
• $33.75 million to the New York State Department of Transportation to implement the Advanced Civil Speed Enforcement System (ACSES) PTC system on the Amtrak-controlled section of the Empire Corridor Hudson Line.
• $5.8 million to the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority to install SEPTA’s ACSES II PTC system along a 3-mile portion of restored Regional Rail service from Elwyn to Wawa, and deploy onboard survey map software that contains the physical characteristics of the railroad and dictates train-operating speeds throughout SEPTA’s rail network.

FRA Reports PTC Progress

March 20, 2017

A Federal Railroad Administration report released last week said that positive train control has been installed and is active on 16 percent of freight railroads and 24 percent of passenger railroads.

That is an increase from 16 percent on freight railroads and 23 percent of passenger railroads in the third quarter of 2016.

The FRA said that 41 percent of passenger railroad locomotives are fully equipped with PTC technology, compared with 29 percent in the third quarter.

The percentage of freight railroad locomotives equipped with PTC rose to 42 percent compared with 38 percent in the third quarter of 2016.

The railroad industry faces a Dec. 31, 2018, deadline to install and implement PTC.

Commuter Rails 23% PTC Compliant

February 23, 2017

The American Public Transportation Association said this week that U.S. commuter railroads are on schedule to meet the December 2018 deadline for implementing positive train control systems.

APTAAPTA said that at the end of 2016 that PTC had been installed on 3,150 route miles (23 percent) of commuter-rail track.

Last November APTA said 22 percent of the nation’s commuter railroad track had PTC.

Thirty percent of the locomotive and cab cars of commuter railroads had received a PTC installation and 70 percent of the radio spectrum needed for PTC had been acquired.

In a news release, APTA said that funding remains a critical concern for commuter-rail agencies because PTC installations are expected to cost $3.5 billion.

APTA said that although Congress has authorized $199 million for PTC implementation it hasn’t appropriated the funds.

FRA Says PTC Progress is Uneven

November 29, 2016

Progress toward the implementation of positive train control has been uneven, the Federal Railroad Administration said in a report based on third quarter 2016 information submitted by railroads.

FRAThe FRA said PTC is active on 12 percent of freight railroad lines, an increase from 9 percent in the second quarter.

Passenger railroads increased their percentage to 23 percent this quarter compared to 22 percent last quarter.

In a news release, the FRA said the greatest progress has occurred on the West Coast. East Coast railroads, other than SEPTA and Amtrak, have remained relatively stagnant.