According to a statement from the AAR, the nation's freight railroads said that a year-long moratorium on installing 20,000 communication antennas imposed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), followed by a lengthy federal approval process mandated by the agency, has seriously delayed the implementation of nationwide interoperable PTC. Whereas freight railroads once projected that by 2015 they would have PTC installed on 40 percent of the network mandated by FRA, they now believe, thanks to the FCC issues, only 20 percent of the PTC network will be up and running by the congressionally-imposed deadline.
"Everyone in the industry is greatly frustrated at the inability to move forward and do what we need to do to advance PTC installation," said Association of American Railroads President and CEO Edward R. Hamberger. "It's been two steps forward, three steps back for months and we simply don't have the certainty we need to move ahead and get PTC tested, fully functioning, certified and ready to go."
Causing the timing for installation to be delayed significantly, Hamberger said, was an FCC directive to suspend installation of approximately 20,000 communications antennas necessary to for PTC to work until the antennas are assessed through the FCC's environmental and historical evaluation process. The problem, Hamberger noted, is that how the thousands of antennas are to be reviewed has yet to be determined. The majority of the antennas at issue are between 10- to 60-feet tall and roughly 97 percent are located on railroad property, he added.
In January 2014, the FCC proposed a process to help streamline the antenna review, including batching antenna submittals by county. According to the FCC, the alternative process is "intended to create an efficient, practical and timely review process that ensures full consideration of the effects of PTC wayside poles on historic properties...in a manner that allows the railroads to complete construction by the congressional deadline."
The freight rail industry is expected to install PTC on approximately 60,000 miles of mainline track and has spent approximately $4 billion to date implementing the automatic braking system congress called for as part of the 2008 Rail Safety Improvement Act.
Hamberger noted that despite the challenges, railroads so far have been able to make progress in some areas of PTC implementation, including:
- Installing or partially installing PTC equipment on 50 percent of the locomotives on which it will be required;
- Deploying one third of the wayside units that will be required;
- Replacing half of the signals needed for implementation, and
- Mapping most of the track that will be equipped with PTC.
AAR's report to FRA summarizing the freight railroad industry's progress, available here, includes an in-depth look at issues, such as delays in availability of critical back-office-server software, complexities of mapping an ever-changing nationwide rail network, and taking a phased approach to testing and implementing PTC on each railroad's PTC network.