U.S. rail network could be a year from meeting federal PTC goals

Written by Kyra Senese, managing editor
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The U.S. transportation network looks to be a year from meeting its full implementation goals for positive train control (PTC), following developments as the 2018 year came to a close.

As of Dec. 31, four railroads had completed PTC implementation, while the remaining outliers had requested a two-year deadline extension from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) stated.

The Metrolink, North County Transit District, Port Authority Trans-Hudson Corp. and the Portland & Western Railroad comprise the four railroads that fully met the deadline, according to USDOT. The railroads self-reported their full implementation of a PTC system and their trains—and tenant railroads’ trains—are governed by a PTC system, according to USDOT.

The Dec. 31 milestone was the intended deadline for 41 U.S. railroads to implement the technology or meet federal stipulations to receive a two-year deadline extension or “alternative schedule.”

Seven of the 37 railroads that requested deadline extensions include Class 1 railroads, while 25 railroads that sought alternative schedules include intercity and commuter railroads. Five such railroads include shortline or regional railroads.

Additionally, a dozen railroads have received conditional PTC system certification from the FRA, allowing those railroads to operate PTC in revenue service. The USDOT also reports that 41,000 U.S. route miles are now in PTC operation, meaning 71 percent of the route miles that are subject to the mandate have met the federal goal.

In December of 2018, 11 projects slated to implement PTC systems were awarded more than $46 million in FRA grants.

In September, the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials for the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held its second hearing of 2018 to focus on PTC implementation. Officials from the National Transportation Safety Board, Government Accountability Office, Amtrak, the Association of American Railroads, Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority and the Altamont Corridor Express discussed the state of PTC implementation throughout the U.S. at the meeting, which ended with an order from Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA-10), who chaired the subcommittee: “PTC, get it done.”

Earlier in 2018, the FRA also announced $203.7 million in grants for PTC implementation in August to support 28 projects in 15 states.

The Positive Train Control Enforcement and Implementation Act of 2015 (PTCEI Act) was signed into law on Oct. 29, 2015, extending the original statutory deadline for railroads to complete the full implementation of PTC systems from Dec. 31, 2015, to Dec. 31, 2018.

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