The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (US DOT’s) Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) released a status update on its efforts to assist railroads in implementing positive train control systems (PTC), along with the railroads’ self-reported progress for the fourth quarter of 2017.
At the direction of Secretary Elaine L. Chao, the FRA is taking a proactive approach to ensure railroads acquire, install, test and fully implement certified PTC systems in time to meet the congressional interim deadline of December 31, 2018.
“It is the railroads’ responsibility to meet the congressionally mandated PTC requirements,” said FRA Administrator Ronald L. Batory. “The FRA is committed to doing its part to ensure railroads and suppliers are working together to implement PTC systems.”
Between January 2 and February 14, 2018, FRA’s leadership hosted face-to-face meetings with executives from each of the 41 railroads subject to the statutory mandate. The purpose of the meetings was to evaluate each railroad’s PTC status and learn what remaining steps each needs to take to have a PTC system fully implemented by the December deadline or, at a minimum, to meet the statutory criteria necessary to qualify for an alternative schedule.
As a result of the meetings with railroads, FRA is now meeting with PTC suppliers to learn more about their capacity to meet the high demands for railroads’ implementation of PTC systems in a timely manner.
PTC systems are designed to prevent certain train-to-train collisions, over-speed derailments, incursions into established work zone limits, and trains going to the wrong tracks because a switch was left in the wrong position.
All railroads subject to the statutory PTC implementation mandate must implement FRA-certified and interoperable PTC systems by the end of the year. Under the Positive Train Control Enforcement and Implementation Act of 2015, however, Congress permits a railroad to request FRA’s approval of an “alternate schedule” with a deadline beyond December 31, 2018, but no later than December 31, 2020, for certain non-hardware, operational aspects of PTC system implementation. The congressional mandate requires FRA to approve a railroad’s alternative schedule with a deadline no later than December 31, 2020, if a railroad submits a written request to FRA that demonstrates the railroad has met the statutory criteria set forth under 49 U.S.C. § 20157(a)(3)(B).
The fourth quarter data, current as of December 31, 2017, shows PTC systems are in operation on approximately 56 percent of freight railroads’ route miles that are required to be governed by PTC systems — up from 45 percent last quarter and 16 percent on December 31, 2016. Passenger railroads have made less progress — with PTC systems in operation on only 24% of required route miles, unchanged from the previous quarter.
The latest data confirms that railroads continue to make progress in installing PTC system hardware, with 15 railroads reporting they have completed installation of all hardware necessary for PTC system implementation and another 11 railroads reporting they have installed over 80% of PTC system hardware. In addition, all but three railroads report having acquired sufficient spectrum for their PTC system needs.