FRA says meeting PTC deadline unlikely, recommends extension

Written by Mischa Wanek-Libman, editor
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BNSF Network Operations Dispatch Center

The Federal Railroad Administration issued a report titled Positive Train Control Implementation Status, Issues, and Impacts to Congress this month reporting on progress of the railroad carriers in implementing PTC systems.

In the report, the FRA says that initial PTC Implementation Plans from the nation’s railroads did state complete implementation by the 2015 deadline was possible. However, due to “significant technical and programmatic issues” with the PTC systems, FRA said most railroads are not likely to meet full implementation by the 2015 deadline. The Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (RSIA) established a completion date for the installation of interoperable Positive Train Control (PTC) systems by December 31, 2015.

The report’s “Executive Summary” reads in part, “Given the current state of development and availability of the required hardware and software, along with deployment considerations, most railroads will likely not be able to complete full RSIA-required implementation of PTC by December 31, 2015. Partial deployment of PTC can likely be achieved; however, the extent of which is dependent upon successful resolution of known technical and programmatic issues and any new emergent issues.”

FRA points to two programmatic obstacles of PTC including budgeting and contracting and stakeholder availability. FRA names seven categories in which technical obstacles to PTC have been identified including communications spectrum availability, radio availability, design specification availability, back office server and dispatch system availability, track database verification, installation engineering and reliability and availability.

Citing the results of the report, FRA recommended that “if Congress were to consider legislation extending the PTC implementation deadline it should consider several factors, including the extent to which each railroad has demonstrated due diligence in its efforts to successfully implement PTC technologies on its rail system. In the event that Congress were to make legislative changes, FRA suggests allowing for provisional certification of PTC systems that will allow for the use of installed PTC systems under controlled conditions before final system certification is complete. This will allow for the incremental use of PTC systems and produce an increase in safety as the systems are systematically rolled out. FRA also suggests that any revisions to a railroad’s PTCIP be subject to FRA approval with sufficient time for FRA to review and significant FRA oversight. Finally, FRA recommends that it be allowed to approve a railroad to use alternative safety technologies on specified line segments in lieu of PTC, particularly in areas with lower safety risks, if appropriately and properly justified to FRA.”

FRA also mentioned that it has been working closely with the nation’s railroads to find solutions to the issues hindering PTC implementation. The FRA stated that, to date, railroads have raised and expended more than $1.5 billion of private capital and $50 million through the Railroad Safety Technology Grant Program has been distributed to help remedy the problems encountered with PTC implementation.

“FRA and the railroads are also working to identify any additional issues and solutions; however, this effort is hampered by the novel nature of the issues. PTC implementation, on the scale required by the RSIA, has never been attempted anywhere in the world,” the report read.

Categories: C&S, Class 1, Safety/Training, Shortline/Regional