Implementation of PTC on the scale required by the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 has not been done anywhere in the world. So far, railroads have spent more than $1.5 billion in private capital to try to implement the technology by the 2015 deadline.
"Freight railroads remain committed to implementing PTC and are doing all they can to address the challenges that have surfaced as implementation moves forward," said Edward Hamberger, president and CEO of AAR.
The federal mandate requires that PTC systems must be fully interoperable, or able to seamlessly operate on all railroads' systems. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and railroads have been working together to find solutions to technical challenges in order to meet the 2015 deadline. However, says AAR, the FRA, railroads and others have acknowledged that unresolved issues make that date unrealistic.
"The mandate and implementation of PTC is an unprecedented undertaking and despite nearly a decade of research and development, still faces significant hurdles to deployment," said Hamberger. "Implementing a technology like this, with so many players, has never been done before."
According to the FRA, the freight rail industry is on pace for the safest year on record. FRA data shows train accidents have declined 15.2 percent through August 2012, compared with the same period last year, while collisions are down 21.6 percent and derailments are down 13.3 percent. The number of yard accidents also dropped 9.6 percent, while the total number of railroad employee fatalities declined to 14 from 18 in the January-August period. Fatalities at grade crossings also dropped 13.5 percent through August.