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Rail News: Positive Train Control

Insufficient funds, still-evolving technology among commuter railroads' PTC concerns, APTA official says


Commuter railroads' No. 1 priority is passenger and employee safety, but a lack of sufficient funding is making it difficult for the railroads to implement positive train control (PTC), the executive vice president of member services for the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) told a Senate panel late last week.

"Insufficient funding is a significant impediment to implementation for publicly funded railroads," Kathy Waters told the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, which held a hearing on rail safety.

APTA consistently supported the concept of PTC long before the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 mandated implementation, provided that the necessary technology, resources and radio spectrum were available to "put PTC into practice," Waters said, according to a press release.

"We are working with our member railroads to meet the law's requirements that all of the nation's commuter railroads have federally approved systems that help protect against accidents," she said.

The initial estimate for commuter railroads' PTC implementation was about $2 billion, with necessary equipment to be installed on more than 4,000 locomotives and passenger cars with control cabs, and 8,500 track miles, she said. Since that initial estimate, commuter roads have begun contracting work and acquiring technology, and estimated implementation costs have risen "well beyond" $2 billion, Waters said.

Although Congress authorized $250 million for PTC implementation in fiscal years 2009 to 2013, only $50 million was appropriated during those years, she said.

Many agencies charged with installing PTC on their commuter-rail systems "are carrying enormous debt service and many have substantial state-of-good-repair capital projects, which are also necessary to ensure safe operations [and] are competing for scare resources," Waters said.

Overall, the development of the technology presents a challenge for the railroads to meet the mandated end-of-2015 deadline, she said.

"Key components of PTC systems are still in the developmental phase, such as software upgrades and revisions and roadway worker protection," Waters said. "Absent these essential elements, full implementation by 2015 will be impeded, even for those railroads that have secured the necessary funding."

Moreover, the inability of most commuter railroads to acquire necessary radio spectrum also is impeding full PTC implementation by 2015's end.

"The FCC [Federal Communications Commission] has not responded to APTA's requests to make available spectrum available as a public safety imperative and insisted the necessary bandwidth can be purchased on the open market," said Waters.

For more information about commuter railroads' PTC efforts, read this article that appears in the June issue of Progressive Railroading.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 6/24/2013