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Positive train control (PTC) technology is operational on all 57,536 required freight and passenger railroad route miles — days before the federal Dec. 31 deadline, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) announced yesterday.
In addition, as required, the FRA has certified that each host railroad's PTC system complies with the technical requirements for PTC systems. Moreover, railroads have reported that interoperability has been achieved between each applicable host and tenant railroad that operates on PTC-governed main lines, FRA officials said in a press release.
PTC systems are designed to prevent train-to-train collisions, over-speed derailments, incursions into established work zones and movements of trains through switches left in the wrong position. The FRA's announcement yesterday is the culmination of over a decade of collaboration among the FRA and the 41 railroads that were subject to the mandate, including seven Class Is, Amtrak, 28 commuter railroads and five other freight railroads that regularly host intercity passenger or commuter-rail service.
FRA Administrator Ronald Batory congratulated the railroad industry, including its many professional and trade associations, for reaching the "transformative accomplishment."
"PTC is a critical piece and new dimension of safety in the railroad industry, but it does not take the place of the men and women who operate and maintain passenger trains," Batory said. "At its core, PTC is a risk reduction system that will make a safe industry even safer, and provide a solid foundation upon which additional safety improvements will be realized."
Batory also credited the FRA's PTC experts for providing technical assistance to railroads throughout the process.
In 2008, Congress passed the Rail Safety Improvement Act (RSIA) in response to several fatal rail accidents between 2002 and 2008. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has long had PTC implementation on its "Most Wanted List" of critical improvements to traffic safety. The agency has investigated 154 rail accidents that could have been prevented had PTC systems been in place, NTSB officials have said.
The RSIA mandated the implementation of PTC systems on Class Is' main lines over which 5 million or more gross tons of annual traffic and certain hazardous materials are transported, and on main lines over which intercity passenger or commuter-rail trains regularly operate.
The federal legislation and FRA's subsequent regulations also require PTC systems to be interoperable, meaning that the locomotives of host and tenant railroads operating on the same main line must communicate with and respond to the PTC system, including during uninterrupted movements over property boundaries.
The U.S. Department of Transportation supported PTC technology implementation by providing $3.4 billion in grant and loan funding to support railroads and other entities that sought federal financial assistance, FRA officials said.
Class Is invested nearly $11.5 billion to develop, install and implement PTC technology, according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR).
"America's railroads have reached an important milestone this year that will enhance safety and springboard innovation long into the future," said AAR President and Chief Executive Officer Ian Jefferies. "While the industry is proud of this accomplishment, the job is never finished. Railroads will remain forward-looking and continue advancing safety through innovation and technology."
Beyond safety, PTC systems hold promise to drive further efficiencies and innovation across the nation's rail network, AAR officials said.
Commuter-rail operators invested over $4 billion to implement PTC systems, and will spend hundreds of millions each year in maintenance and operation costs, according to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).
"The successful implementation of PTC by all 29 commuter-rail agencies is a remarkable achievement given the funding, technological and human resources challenges associated with PTC implementation, operations and maintenance," said Matthew Tucker, North County Transit District's CEO and chair of APTA's Commuter-Rail Committee, in a press release.