Posts Tagged ‘PTC’

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.

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.

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.

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.

FRA Says PTC Compliance at 98.8%

August 13, 2020

Positive train control has now been implemented on 98.8 percent of railroad routes that are required by law to have it the Federal Railroad Administration reported.

The report, which was current as of June 30, said nearly all railroads will be able to meet the mandate of having PTC operating in revenue service or advanced field testing by Dec. 31.

Information in the report is self reported to the FRA by the railroads.

The FRA report said PTC is in full operation or advanced field test on 56,846 of the 57,537 route-miles subject to the federal mandate, representing a 0.7 percent increase since the first quarter of 2020.

As of June 30, 76.1 percent of commuter railroads’ mandated route miles were governed by PTC technology, a 12.9 percent point increase since the last quarter.

Host railroads reported interoperability is in effect on 65.5 percent of the 220 applicable, host-tenant railroad relationships, a 17 percent point increase over the first quarter.

Interoperability refers to the ability of a PTC device on one railroad to operate on another.

The FRA said just two railroads, New Jersey Transit and New Mexico Rail Runner, are at risk of not meeting the Dec. 31 deadline for PTC implementation.

Railroads Say PTC Has Made Signals More Reliable

January 8, 2020

Executives of four railroads said this week that the use of positive train control has made their signal systems more reliable.’

Speaking at the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association Conference, managers from BNSF, Canadian National, CSX and Union Pacific indicated that that has been an unexpected benefit that occurred because PTC systems are providing additional information that is being used by signal departments.

Carl Walker, CSX’s chief engineer of communications and signals, said by providing more information, the carrier has been able to work toward eliminating repeat failures at given locations.

“And our reliability has increased significantly over the past several years because of PTC,” Walker said. “So any time a location fails twice . . . we do a deep dive and we do our best to figure out what the problem is.”

UP’s assistant vice president of engineer, Neal Hathaway, said that data generated by PTC has led to the finding of “all sorts of little glitches.”

“You may have a red signal out there; nobody knew why,” Hathaway said. “You’d sent a signal maintainer, and he wouldn’t find anything, and it would happen once in a blue moon.”

But the PTC data enabled the signal department to track down a lot of that, which has helped out with reliability.

“Even with installing PTC, we are actually down on signal-trouble failures right now,” he said. “We absorbed all the new technology. It has made us better when we go out, more focused on what the problem is. We just have more information.”

Tom Hilliard, CN’s chief of communications and signals, said trouble calls, overtime, and train delays because of signal problems are down at least 40 to 50 percent.

“Now we can focus on better maintenance practices,” he said.

Hathaway said railroads are still learning how to make use of the information they received from their PTC systems and to reach a proactive state in addressing signal problems.

He said one example is studying the time it take for a switch to change and lock into position.

“You can set a threshold where, if a switch is taking longer to lock up, maybe you dispatch someone on a proactive-type basis,” Hathaway said.

Walker believes railroads have yet to take advantage of all the possibilities created by PTC.

“The money that we put into PTC is really the foundation of what’s to come,” he said. “I think we as an industry have to take advantage of things other industries are using to be more reliable, more efficient, more productive, and also looking at a reduced workforce.”

Walker acknowledges that no one wants to hear about people losing their jobs, “but that’s the nature of technology: When you employ technology, typically, you reduce your head count.”

Class 1 Railroads Continue to Work Through PTC Issues

October 16, 2019

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.

PTC Could be Vulnerable to Cyber Attacks

August 28, 2019

Positive train control has yet to be fully implemented in the United States, but some industry officials are already raising the specter that it might be vulnerable to a cyber-attack.

That could result in defeating the purpose of PTC, which was to enhance the safety of rail travel.

“There is no question that a PTC rollout without managing the cybersecurity risk will open new attack vectors due to increased connectivity and new software added to the networks and onboard train,” said Jesus Molina, director of business development Waterfall Security Solutions.

Molina said the increased risk of cyberattacks could lead to accidents.
PTC was mandated by Congress on rail routes handling passengers and hazardous cargo following a number of high profile crashes that resulted in passenger and crew member fatalities.

Approximately 57,848 routes miles in the United States is required to have a PTC system operating by the end of 2020.

“The use of IT-focused security tools, in particular, software tools such as firewalls to protect control critical networks is a huge mistake, and with increasingly connected rail networks, it is becoming a dangerous trend,” Molina said. “The focus of critical control networks is to be reliable and safe, and IT tools meant to protect data and confidentiality are not suitable to defend them.”

It is not that the industry is unaware of the threat of a cyber attack.

Jim McKenney, technical director at NCC Group’s Transportation Assurance Practice said questions of how vulnerable PTC systems are to hacking have been raised at all levels.

“Those are continuously being audited and addressed every single day and will be as long as there are people on trains and they’re going through areas where people live,” he said.

Allan Rutter, a former administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, said the cybersecurity challenges faced by railroads are not unique to PTC.

“It has to do more with the expansion of technology and wayside measurement and train control system and vehicle tracking,” he said. “Their concerns about cybersecurity cover the entire waterfront of everything they do. And PTC is a subsystem, but I think their cybersecurity concerns are broader and wider than that.”

Molina argues that the most secure rail sites are not concerned with the steadily increasing sophistication of cyber-attacks, nor with the steadily increasing rate of disclosure of new attack vulnerabilities in control systems, network, firewalls and other security software.

“This is because the most secure sites protect their automation systems from cyber-attacks physically, with hardware-based solutions such as unidirectional security gateways,” he said.

Molina said “bad actors” have already compromised rail networks in Denmark, the United Kingdom, Germany, Poland, and the United States.

“The targets for most of these breaches was to install malware and ransomware for financial gain, but once a system has been breached, more sophisticated targets, including cyber-physical, rather than pure IT, are possible,” Molina said.

“New targets will start appearing once these actors find a reason to go beyond the IT system, and the new payloads after a successful network breach may include modifying signaling systems to cause collisions, or forcing a malfunction in the software at the control center to impair service,” Molina added. “The question is not if payloads threatening safety will appear, but when.”

Retired U.S. Army Brig. Gen. John Adams, president of Guardian Sox told the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, that since PTC does not allow for driving a train, hacking the system might merely bring trains to a halt.

“A malicious cyber breach of PTC or underlying existing rail signaling systems could wreak havoc and cause accidents or derailments on the highly interdependent freight railway network,” Adams says.

Ohio Crash Probe Focuses on PTC Operation

August 27, 2019

Officials of the Federal Railroad Administration and CSX are seeking to determine why a positive train control system in place on the Columbus Subdivision failed to prevent a collision between two freight trains on Aug. 12.

Investigators are looking at whether the PTC system was properly activated and functioning prior to the early morning crash near Carey, Ohio.

They also are considering the role that human error might have played in causing the collision.

The probe has already determined that although PTC was active on the line, it has been disengaged on train H702, a Columbus to Willard local that struck the side of a southbound frac sand train, the W314, at the end of a passing siding.

Trains magazine cited unnamed sources as saying that the crew that ran past a stop signal had switched off PTC on their locomotive in order to conduct switching operations.

After the crash, the locomotive of the H702 derailed along with 25 freight cars.

An earlier report indicated that the engineer of the W314 had flashed his locomotive’s headlight, sounded its horn and sought to warn the local on the radio.

The crash occurred at 5:21 a.m. and did not result in any serious injuries to any crew member.

The federal law that mandates PTC systems on certain rail lines allows it to be turned off on some trains in limited circumstances, including while switching, during yard-to-yard moves, and when a train’s locomotive fails to connect with the PTC system while already en route.

FRA Reports Continued Progress in PTC Implementation

August 2, 2019

The Federal Railroad Administration reported this week that positive train control is in place on nearly 90 percent of the route miles subject to the federal mandate as of June.

FRA Administrator Ronald Batory told a Senate committee that despite that progress there remains “significant work” to be done to fully implement PTC the end of 2020.

“Nonetheless, railroads must still complete significant work to full implement their PTC systems by Dec. 31, 2020, especially with respect to activating PTC systems on the remaining required main lines and achieving the necessary interoperability with their tenant railroads,” Batory said in his prepared statement.

Through the end of June PTC was in operation on 87 percent of the 58,000 route miles subject to the federal PTC mandate, based on preliminary reports railroads provide the FRA.

Batory told the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation that is a 4 percent increase from the first quarter.

PTC systems are being tested in revenue service demonstration on at least 718 route miles.

Eleven freight railroads, 30 commuter railroads and Amtrak are subject to the PTC mandate.

Among the highlights of the latest PTC report are:

• Class I railroads report that PTC is in operation on 91 percent of their required main lines, which represented a 4 percent increase from the first quarter.

• Host commuter railroads have PTC in revenue service on 443 route miles and in RSD testing on 718 route miles, which represented 37 percent of their 3,111 PTC-required route miles and a 12 percent increase since the first quarter.

• Amtrak, as a host railroad on and near the Northeast Corridor and other parts of the country, reported 899 of its 900 required route miles are governed by PTC. Operations are governed by PTC on 84 percent of route miles where Amtrak operates as a tenant on other railroads’ PTC-equipped main lines.

• Six short line or terminal railroads must implement PTC on their own main lines that provide or host regularly scheduled intercity or commuter passenger rail service. One of those six has been operating its FRA-certified and interoperable PTC system in revenue service since 2018, while the other five are conducting FRA-approved field testing of their PTC systems on the general rail network. They expect to begin RSD during the third quarter.

• Batory said host railroads reported 17 percent of tenant railroads that operate on their PTC-required main lines had achieved interoperability as of March 31.

• Host railroads also reported 33 percent of their applicable tenant railroads were installing PTC hardware and 38 percent had advanced to interoperability testing as of March 31.

“The FRA is currently directing its focus and resources to the PTC-mandated main lines that have a high concentration of host railroads and tenant railroads, including commuter railroads with significant remaining work, such as the PTC-mandated main lines in the Northeast, Chicago area, Florida and Texas,” Batory said.