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Railroads Given Three More Years to Install Positive Train Control

Agreement has been reached by Congress to extend the vital but costly safety system said to prevent many train crashes. Had it not been reached, freight railroads warned they would shut down, as would passenger rail lines running on their tracks.
October 24, 2015, 11am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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"Lawmakers in the House and Senate have reached an agreement to extend for three years a federal deadline for a new automated train system, possibly avoiding a partial railway shutdown," writes Keith Laing for The Hill.

According to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation, "PTC refers to communication-based/processor-based train control technology designed to prevent train-to-train collisions, over speed derailments, incursions into established work zone limits, and the movement of a train through a main line switch in the improper position."

Had an agreement not been reached, the Association of American Railroads argued that freight railroads, and the passenger rail lines run by Amtrak and public transit agencies would have had to cease operations.

The freight rail industry’s progress in installing PTC has been substantial. Railroads have retained more than 2,400 signal system personnel and have already spent close to $6 billion on implementing PTC technology. The reality is that railroads need more time to safely finish the installation of PTC and for real-world testing and validation

The Sacramento Bee opined about negatively about the rail industry's threat to shut down the system.

If the railroad industry’s delay and secrecy on oil train safety isn’t frustrating enough, it’s also dragging its feet on installing anti-collision technology required after a horrific 2008 crash in California killed 25 people. [The Chatsworth crash is also posted here.]

Actually, it’s worse than that. Railroads essentially are blackmailing Congress, threatening to stop running freight and passenger trains as soon as next month unless they get three more years to install positive train-control systems – which can slow or stop trains in case of human error or negligence – and two years after that to test them.

The New York Times editorial was far more supportive of extending the deadline, stating that a rail "shutdown would be devastating to the economy, which is why lawmakers should extend a year-end deadline for the new safety systems, but put in place safeguards to prevent any further delays."
The technology can slow down or stop trains to compensate for human error or negligence. Experts say such a system might have prevented the Amtrak derailment near Philadelphia in May by slowing down the train as it approached a sharp curve.
Indeed, a Bay Area news report referenced that tragedy in an article about Caltrain modernization that also describes what the process of installing PTC entails.

Caltrain deputy CEO Chuck Harvey spoke about the safety system that, most likely, would have prevented this week's Amtrak disaster in Philadelphia. When that train derailed, it had been going almost twice the speed limit. Positive train control would not have allowed such an apparent error, and will soon become reality on the peninsula.

"Basically what it does is it can override the engineer..." Caltrain director of safety Jim Casteneda said.

However, "PTC will not prevent vehicle-train [crashes] at grade crossings, or those due to track and equipment failures," according to Union Pacific Railroad, such as the February Metro-North crash with an SUV in Valhalla, Westchester County that killed six. However, it likely would have played a role in preventing the Dec.1, 2013 derailment of a Metro-North train in the Bronx that killed four.

On top of the three-year extension, railroads "will also have the option of requesting an extra two years to work on the installation if they submit plans for doing the work by Dec. 31, 2018," adds Hill. "The requests would have to be approved by the Department of Transportation [DOT] on a case-by-case basis."

Full Story:
Published on Wednesday, October 21, 2015 in The Hill
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