DOT Secretary Chao rings bell for Positive Train Control implementation

Features Logistics News Rail & Intermodal Transportation

Late last month, United States Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao penned a letter to Class I railroads, as well as passenger railroads and state and local transportation agencies, regarding the federally-mandated Positive Train Control (PTC) mandate, which is slated to be fully implemented by December 31, 2018.

The December deadline is past the original deadline of December 31, 2015, which the Association of American Railroads said was arbitrary and unworkable and riddled with technical and legal complexities, as well as railroads and freight rail shippers stressing there would be serious consequences for the nation if the deadline was​​ not extended.

The objective of PTC systems is to prevent train-to-train collisions, overspeed derailments, and incursions into roadway work limits. PTC sends and receives a continuous stream of data transmitted by wireless signals about the location, speed, and direction of trains, according to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). PTC systems, added the FRA, utilize advanced technologies including digital radio links, global positioning systems and wayside computer control systems that aid dispatchers and train crews in safely managing train movements.

In her letter, Chao said that her letter was a reminder to the railroads to emphasize that at the end of this year they are required to achieve certain Congressionally-mandated milestones related to the implementation of PTC and are taking all possible measures to ensure it will meet all requirements specified by Congress by the December 31 deadline.

“The coming year is filled with an agenda of rail safety-oriented initiatives, and among the most important is advancing the implementation of Positive Train Control,” wrote Chao. “This particular initiative must be executed within the regulatory timelines as extended by Congress. Upon review of the latest data provided by the industry, we are concerned that many of the Nation’s railroads must greatly accelerate their efforts to achieve the Congressionally mandated requirements. In that regard, the FRA leadership has been directed to work with your organization’s leadership 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.”

A mandate for PTC systems was included in House and Senate legislation- The Rail Safety and Improvement Act of 2008. The legislation was passed after a September 12, 2008 collision between a freight train and a commuter train in Los Angeles. PTC has received renewed attention, following a tragic Amrtak accident in the Philadelphia area in 2015. As per the mandate, the December 31, 2015 deadline required freight railroads to install Positive Train Control (PTC) technology on 40 percent of its network.

Based on FRA data, the pace of implementation for PTC among Class I railroads remains a work in progress based on various metrics, including: locomotives equipped, track segments completed, radio towers installed, training completed, route miles in PTC operation; PTC safety plan; and spectrum.

The pace of PTC implementation has been largely viewed as “uneven” from freight railroad stakeholders both before the original December 31, 2015 deadline and this new December 31, 2018 deadline. PTC has been commonly referred to as the “unfunded mandate” in railroad circles. A major concern of freight railroads has been that PTC rules finalized in January 2010 required PTC on sections of tracking where the cost is not justified, according to a March 2011 Wall Street Journal report.

About the Author

Jeff Berman, Group News Editor

Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. Contact Jeff Berman

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