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Rail News: Positive Train Control

AAR: 'It's simply impossible' for roads to safely, fully install PTC by the mandated deadline


Today, the National Transportation Safety Board is holding a forum on positive train control (PTC), during which the major U.S. freight railroads will state it isn't possible to meet the congressionally mandated end-of-2015 deadline to adopt the technology despite an "unrelenting commitment" to implementation, Association of American Railroads (AAR) officials said in a press release issued yesterday.

Since Congress mandated PTC in 2008, freight railroads have spent more than $2.7 billion on implementation, including the design, development and testing of new communications technology, onboard computers, radios and back-office dispatching software.

As of 2012's end, railroads had partially equipped 6,072 locomotives with onboard equipment out of a total of 18,100 units requiring devices; equipped 8,504 of 37,512 wayside locations with wayside interface units; and acquired 2,775 220 MHz base, wayside and locomotive radios out of the 56,035 needed, AAR officials said. Nonetheless, much remains to be done before implementation is complete, they added.

"Freight railroads are determined to safely implement PTC, and have been putting vast resources and energy behind efforts to do so. But the fact is, it's simply impossible to safely install a reliable, fully interoperable PTC system everywhere it is required by the 2015 deadline," said AAR President and Chief Executive Officer Ed Hamberger. "There may be segments of track across the country that will be PTC operable by the 2015 deadline, but completely implementing PTC on the more than 60,000 route miles required by the mandate is still not possible by 2015."

Freight railroads continue to map more than 475,000 critical features of their rail system into a computerized track database and will need to conduct specialized PTC-related training for approximately three-quarters of their workforce after the technology is deployed. In addition, technological challenges, a scarcity of necessary funds, and concerns that the Federal Railroad Administration can review and certify railroads' PTC plans prior to 2015's end make meeting the deadline "extremely unlikely," AAR officials said.

"This is one of the most significant technological undertakings in transportation history. Safely implementing interoperable PTC cannot be rushed — we must get it right to ensure rail continues to be the safest way to move both people and goods," said Hamberger.

The House and Senate last year considered measures that would have extended the federal deadline by three to five years to provide railroads more time to implement PTC, but those measures died in the previous Congress. At this early stage in the new Congress, it's uncertain whether new legislative attempts will be made later this year to extend the deadline.