New FRA PTC data show railroads moving closer to completing implementation

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U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., right, on May 15 takes the controls of a positive train control simulator under the direction of John Barnette, CSX Transportation director of PTC and locomotive engineer training. The simulator was available for members of Congress, Capitol Hill staff, and visitors during a rail technology exhibit hosted by the Association of American Railroads.
R.G. Edmonson
WASHINGTON — Data from the first quarter of 2018 show Class I railroads and Amtrak are making progress in installing positive train control equipment and training employees training, while commuter lines are still struggling to meet the Dec. 31 installation deadline imposed by Congress.

However, all lines have barely made progress in interoperability, a new metric that FRA introduced with the recent data. According to a senior FRA official, the agency will be closely monitoring interoperability progress for the rest of the year. Interoperability refers to the ability of one railroad's PTC system to communicate with other systems in cases where more than one railroad operates on a particular section of track.

BNSF Railway continues to be the leader among the Class I railroads, with all locomotives and wayside hardware installed and all employees trained. BNSF also leads in the interoperability category with 17 percent completion, compared with none among the other major railroads.

By the numbers, CSX Transportation added 153 miles of rail line under PTC, comprising 66 track segments, up from 60 at Dec. 31, 2017. CSX also completed PTC training for employees. The other railroads also show modest progress. Union Pacific, for example, put PTC in operation on an additional 1,030 miles, completing 177 of 182 track segments. CSX and UP now must ensure interoperability with 28 and 31 other rail operations respectively.

Amtrak's numbers changed little between Dec. 31, 2017 and March 31, 2018. The intercity passenger carrier reported has put PTC in operation on some two-thirds of route miles it owns on the Northeast Corridor and in Michigan. It has interoperability with two of 20 railroads.

Commuter railroads' progress ranges widely. The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority reports it has completed PTC installation. Commuter lines in Los Angeles, San Diego, Denver, Minneapolis, and Sonoma County, Calif., report 100 percent completion in relevant categories.

NJ Transit reported that it had completed equipment installation on 35 of 440 locomotives, had not completed installation on any track segments, and had no route miles under PTC control. The Long Island Rail Road reported completing PTC equipment installation on its locomotive fleet, and three of 16 track segments had PTC hardware. None of its 320 route miles were under PTC operation.

The FRA on May 15 also announced that $250 million is available to railroads for PTC system grants. The grants are intended to “help railroads to more rapidly deploy positive train control systems,” said Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao. The deadline will be 45 days after an official announcement in the Federal Register.

More information is available online.
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