Positive Train Control (PTC) was given an initial deadline to be implemented in every passenger and freight train in the US by the end of 2015. However, this process proved a complicated one requiring the development of safety critical software. The system will eventually see the installation of 3,150 miles of track, 3,400 locomotives, 1,000 radio towers and the training of more than 13,000 employees, according to American Public Transport Authority (APTA), a non-profit organisation that regulates rail activity for its 1,500 members.
Prior to the 2015 PTC deadline it was compromised by the government that this time scale was unrealistic. There was not enough time or funding for train operators to make the complex implementations. After further discussions the PTC Enforcement and Implementation Act required that railroads submit a revised PTC Implementation Plan (PTCIP) by 2018. This means that it will be mandatory for every train in operation to have a fully activational PTC system at this time. There is also the possibility for an extended deadline of two years if certain requirements have already been met. According to a recent report issued by APTA, the commuter rail industry is making the right sort of progress necessary to meet the demands of the new PTC deadline. “The commuter rail industry has made great strides in implementing positive train control (PTC),” said APTA Acting President and CEO Richard A. White. “This progress on this complex safety technology demonstrates our ongoing commitment to our number one priority of safety.”
Originally, it was decided by railroad and federal safety officials that PTC would be introduced to trains and tracks across the country a month after the tragic California crash that saw 25 people killed in 2008. The tragedy was supposed to be triggered by human error after a Connex engineer operating a Metrolink train failed to stop at a red signal. As a result, this train collided with a Union Pacific freight train which injured a further 135 people. PTC then combines GPS, wireless radio and computers to monitor trains and prevent fatal collisions, derailing or speeding. The new safety system will prevent train to train collisions, over-speed derailments and prevent the movement of trains through switches left in the wrong position. PTC monitors and, if necessary, controls train movement in the event of human error. It may also bring trains to a safe stop in the event of a natural disaster. However, the nationwide development was highly unfeasible for a majority of train operators by the time the 2015 deadline cropped up.
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Since then, work to install and update the American train and transit systems is well underway now that 22% of the 3,150 route miles are either in service or in full PTC demonstration awaiting Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) approvals. By the end of this year it expected that 9% of commuters rail agencies will be 100% PTC equipped. APTA’s Acting President and CEO Richard A. White said, “The commuter rail industry has made great strides in implementing positive train control… This progress on this complex safety technology demonstrates our ongoing commitment to our number one priority of safety.”
It was reported by APTA ( @APTA_info ) in October 2016 that the commuter railroads spent more than $1.5 billion on PTC updates. The total implementation is expected to cost around $3.5 billion in capital expenditure including the $100 million in annual maintenance costs.
The Federal Railroad Administration have forecasted that the firms on track to upgrade their systems and comply with PTC regulations by 2017 are: Marc Train Service, Denton County Transportation Authority and the freight service Terminal Railroad Association of St Louis.
Some transit agencies have already exceeded the extended deadline and have fully updated their systems:
- Regional Transit District Commuter
- Southern California Regional Rail Authority
- North County Transit Authority
- Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority
- Tri-Met Westside Express Service
- Virgina Railway Express
- Portland and Western Railroad (Freight)
“The installation of PTC is a heavy lift for the commuter rail industry. From a technical standpoint, PTC was not a mature technology when Congress mandated it in the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008,” said White. “A number of challenges had to be addressed, not just from the technology aspect, but in costs, scarce qualified resources, and adequate access to track and locomotives for installation and testing.”
Despite the compliance of the transit agencies listed above, funding remains a real concern for many of the commuter rail agencies which are all financed by the public sector. Advancements have been made - the government has allocated $75 million worth in federal grants specifically for the PTC implementation. Additionally, a further $199 million was authorised by Congress but is still waiting to be appropriated. A third source of funding will come from the US Department of Transportation worth $967 million to one commuter rail agency.
“It is urgent that Congress appropriate additional dollars so that the commuter rail industry has the resources to continue their aggressive actions to meet this congressional deadline,” concluded White.
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