As of the end of June, nearly a quarter of the Class I railroads’ U.S. operations have positive train control (PTC) technology that can operate across another carrier’s rail network, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) said in a September 9 update on PTC implementation.
FRA said 23.3% of the Class I U.S. rail operations have achieved interoperability. This is up from 16% in the first quarter of 2019.
The FRA defines interoperability as when a train, with its locomotive and cab cars, can interact with the PTC system of a host railroad and a tenant railroad. The goal of interoperability is to enable uninterrupted movements across property boundaries. The goal of PTC meanwhile is to prevent train collisions by monitoring the distances between trains.
Among all the railroads required to have PTC installed and operating on their networks by the federally-mandated deadline of December 31, 2020, 22% of the 232 host-tenant relationships required to have interoperability are indeed interoperable.
The other railroads required to have PTC installed are Amtrak, major commuter rail lines and host railroads such as some shortline railroads that host passenger rail lines. A total of 41 railroads must comply with the PTC mandate, which Congress implemented as part of the Rail Safety Act of 2008.
Interoperability is considered as the final piece of the puzzle for PTC to work effectively across the U.S. rail network. Earlier this year, federal witnesses raised some concerns at a July 31 Congressional hearing over whether U.S. railroads will meet the December 2020 deadline.
“You have the big hurdle of interoperability. Trying to work through that, particularly in certain parts of the country. So, I think we are at a crossroads. I think a lot of work has happened, but there continues to be software issues, reliability issues, there’s still vendor issues,” said Susan Fleming, director of physical infrastructure for the Government Accountability Office, at the July 31 hearing.
“FRA has a lot on its plate; some of the safety plans are 1,000 pages; [and] they are trying to create a template to have some type of standardization but that’s not going to work with every PTC system,” Fleming said.
For now, the FRA indicated on September 9 that nearly all the railroads in the various railroads categories have PTC installed on their trains and rail networks, although the stage of the technology implementation varies. By the end of the second quarter, PTC systems were operating on 87% of the nearly 58,000 route miles required to be equipped with PTC, the FRA said. This is a 4% increase from the first quarter.
The Class I railroads have PTC systems operating on approximately 91% of their required main lines as of the end of June, the FRA said. This is also a 4% increase from the first quarter of 2019.
“FRA is determined to help all affected railroads successfully satisfy the statutory deadline for full PTC system installation, testing, certification and ultimately initiate operations governed by PTC on all required territories,” said FRA Administrator Ronald L. Batory. “FRA is currently directing its focus and resources on the technical challenges facing the railroads, including commencing revenue service demonstration, interoperability testing and safety plans.”