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Rail News: Communication and Signal

Four Class Is to establish PTC interoperability standards; two to implement PTC in L.A. area by 2012


With the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (H.R. 2095/S. 1889) just a presidential signature away from becoming law, four Class Is already are taking action to comply with the legislation's positive train control (PTC) mandates. The four reached an agreement on PTC interoperability standards while two of them announced plans to begin implementing the technology in the Los Angeles area.

The bill will require all Class Is and passenger railroads to implement a PTC system on all mainlines where freight, intercity passenger and commuter trains operate, as well as on lines used to haul hazardous materials by Dec. 31, 2015. A predictive collision avoidance system, PTC is designed to stop a train before an accident occurs, and keep a train within authorized limits and under the maximum speed.

One of the major obstacles facing Class Is as they work to meet the mandate is the interoperability of various PTC systems among various large roads and passenger railroads that share tracks. To that end, BNSF Railway Co., CSX Transportation, Norfolk Southern Corp. and Union Pacific Railroad have announced they reached the pact on PTC interoperability standards.

"While we have worked diligently to address the technical challenges of developing a deployable system, interoperability among railroads has remained a challenge," said NS Vice Chairman and Chief Operating Officer Stephen Tobias in a prepared statement. "This agreement has put us on a fast track to realizing the benefits of PTC."

The Class Is plan to work with elected officials and regulators to gain additional radio spectrum and establish sufficient communications for PTC, especially in L.A. and Chicago, said UP Executive Vice President of Operations Dennis Duffy.

Meanwhile, UP is pursuing its own plan to implement PTC on lines it shares with commuter railroads in the L.A. area by 2012. On Sept. 12, UP and Metrolink trains collided in Chatsworth, Calif., after the Metrolink engineer allegedly ran his train through a red signal.

UP plans to test its version of PTC, the Vital Train Management System (VTMS), on its lines in Iowa, Nebraska and Wyoming, and in Washington and Idaho as part of a joint test with Canadian Pacific Railway. The Class I already has started to test VTMS — a system developed by Wabtec Railway Electronics that’s designed to override the engineer or train operator when necessary — on 456 miles of track. The tests will further validate the system's hardware and software, said Duffy.

"A metropolitan area such as L.A. presents unique operational and technical requirements, such as the high volume of radio spectrum needed and shared lines between freight and passenger trains," he said.

BNSF also plans to install its version of PTC on L.A.-area lines by 2012's end.

"BNSF has had a plan in place for implementation of PTC over many of the routes specified in the legislation," said BNSF EVP and COO Carl Ice. "We will be able to accelerate that plan to meet the statutory deadline and, if financing is available, may be able to implement PTC sooner in specific parts of our system, such as those where commuter rail service operates."

Since 2003, the Class I has been working with Wabtec Railway Electronics to develop the Electronic Train Management System (ETMS), which is designed to enforce train movement authorities, signal aspects, speed restrictions and work zones, and monitor switch position in non-signaled territory.

BNSF has tested ETMS on a 135-mile line in Illinois and continues to test the system between Fort Worth, Texas, and Oklahoma City, Okla. ETMS has "passed every test during more than 1,600 train trips made so far, [and] has stopped every train that it should have stopped, and not stopped any train that it should not have stopped," BNSF officials said.

The Class I has Federal Railroad Administration approval to implement ETMS on a test basis under certain conditions. ETMS tests on multiple-track mainlines shared by freight and passenger trains are under way, BNSF said.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 10/9/2008