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Regulators: Railroads beat deadline for anti-crash technology rollout

Positive train control operating on all required freight and passenger routes

The long-awaited rollout of anti-crash technology known as positive train control (PTC) among all railroads required to install the technology is now complete, according to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).

PTC, which was mandated as part of the Rail Safety Act of 2008, is now in operation on all 57,536 required freight and passenger railroad route miles – including seven Class I railroads, Amtrak and 28 commuter railroads – prior to the year-end deadline set by Congress.

“Achieving 100% PTC implementation is a tremendous accomplishment and reflects the department’s top priorities – safety, innovation and infrastructure,” commented U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.

PTC is designed to prevent train-to-train collisions, over-speed derailments and movements of trains through switches left in the wrong position. Statutory requirements mandated not only implementation of PTC on the 41 railroads required to install it but that it be interoperable among competing lines – locomotives of host and tenant railroads operating on the same main line must be able to communicate with and respond to the PTC system.

“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 freight and passenger trains,” commented FRA Administrator Ronald Batory. “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.”

A government watchdog report published in April warned that the COVID-19 pandemic threatened to hamper the rail industry’s ability to meet Thursday’s deadline. By late summer, however, the industry reported that nearly all the freight and passenger railroads required to have PTC installed on their networks had the technology in place or were at advanced stages of testing.

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John Gallagher

Based in Washington, D.C., John specializes in regulation and legislation affecting all sectors of freight transportation. He has covered rail, trucking and maritime issues since 1993 for a variety of publications based in the U.S. and the U.K. John began business reporting in 1993 at Broadcasting & Cable Magazine. He graduated from Florida State University majoring in English and business.