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Rail News: Amtrak

OIG: Amtrak could better measure PTC system reliability

The Amtrak Office of Inspector General recommended that Amtrak research options for electronic tools to access data needed to monitor PTC performance.
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The Amtrak Office of Inspector General (OIG) last week recommended that Amtrak take steps to better measure its positive train control (PTC) systems. 

The OIG — which accessed the extent to which Amtrak’s PTC systems are interoperable with the railroad's hosts and tenants, and continuously operating — found that effective program management has helped Amtrak achieve progress on interoperability.

However, the OIG also found that Amtrak can take additional steps to make sure that its PTC systems are on, operating continuously, reliable and using accurate data to guide operations. 

Amtrak cannot fully measure PTC reliability because it does not have the electronic tools to easily access the data necessary for it and the Federal Railroad Administration to monitor system performance, OIG officials said in a press release.

As a result, reports on PTC reliability are incomplete and Amtrak cannot easily identify potential problems it may need to address now or over the longer term. 

To address the issue, the OIG recommended that Amtrak research options for electronic tools to access data needed to monitor PTC performance.

The OIG found that the railroad also faces two risks that may diminish the safety benefits PTC is intended to provide. First, the PTC systems sometimes do not initialize before a train leaves a station or may disengage along a route. Amtrak PTC program officials pointed out that, when such incidents occur, trains must still abide by traditional measures to ensure safe operations, such as obeying signaling systems and rules that guide engineers, OIG officials said.

The FRA will require stringent practices to address these situations be implemented by January 2022, OIG officials said.

Second, the PTC systems require accurate data to know when to enforce temporary speed restrictions or prohibit trains from entering areas where employees are working, but dispatchers must manually enter these data into the systems. Amtrak takes steps to help ensure the data dispatchers enter is accurate, but there is still a risk of human error.

As a result, the OIG recommended that Amtrak determine what, if any, additional steps are needed when PTC does not operate as intended, and determine what it can do to address the risk of human error when reporting data.