The latest news from the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) press room is that the commuter rail industry is still making progress to meet the positive train control (PTC) target. The former deadline was set at the end of 2015. After rising costs and the need for safety critical software, it soon became clear that many passenger and freight services would not be able to update their technology in time. However, the revised deadline for December 2018 has been more realistic for rail operators. According to updated analyses completed by the APTA, the commuter rail industry continues to make significant progress on implementing PTC and is on schedule to meet the congressional deadline when all 3,150 miles of track will be updated with the essential technology.
According to APTA’s analyses, some of the results from December 31, 2016 are as follows:
- 23% of the 3,150 route miles are either in service or in full PTC demonstration mode, while awaiting Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) approvals;
- 30% of the 3,400 locomotives and cab cars are installed with PTC hardware;
- 40% of the 35 back office control systems are ready for operation;
- 70% of spectrum has been acquired and 50% of the 1,000 radio towers have been erected;
- 24% of the 13,000 employees have been trained in PTC; and
- 19% of commuter rail agencies were 100% PTC equipped by the end of 2016.
These APTA analyses was based on surveying APTA members and assessing the quarterly reports submitted to the FRA for the last quarter of 2016. It also showed that given the priority of PTC, there remains significant investment backlog for State of Good Repair (SOGR) and expansion projects, including upgrades and replacement to track, bridges, rolling stock and facilities. Since APTA’s last quarterly report, the Federal Transit Administration has updated the SOGR for the public transit industry which has increased to $90 billion.
“The commuter rail industry continues to make significant progress in implementing positive train control (PTC),” said APTA Acting President and CEO Richard A. White. “The progress on this complex safety technology demonstrates the industry’s relentless focus on safety.”
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For this reason, the delivery of PTC is highly complex, requiring the development of safety critical software; installations on 3,150 miles of track; 3,400 locomotives; 1,000 radio towers; and training more than 13,000 employees, according to APTA.
“The installation of PTC is challenging for a number of reasons, including from a technical perspective. PTC was not a mature technology when Congress mandated it in the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008,” said White. “Beyond the technological challenges that have to be addressed, there are significant issues in regard to the costs, scarce qualified resources, and adequate access to track and locomotives for installation and testing.”
Positive train control implementation is expected to cost the commuter rail industry more than $3.5 billion in capital expenditures, which includes more than $16 million in spectrum acquisition, as well as $100 million annually in additional maintenance costs.
Funding remains a critical concern for the commuter rail agencies, all of which are publicly funded. Currently, $75 million has been awarded to commuter rail agencies through federal grants designated specifically for PTC implementation. Additionally, $199 million was authorised by Congress but has yet to be appropriated. Finally, a $967 million loan from the U.S. Department of Transportation was made available to one commuter rail agency for PTC implementation.
“On behalf of the commuter rail industry, I urge Congress to quickly make available the $199 million authorised by the Fast Act for FY 2017 and consider providing additional resources to support industry efforts to meet the congressional deadline,” said White.
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