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Transport Canada wants to implement version of positive train control

Enhanced train control in Canada could be deployed differently in higher-risk and lower-risk corridors

A Canadian Pacific train hauls grain. (Photo: Canadian Pacific)

The Canadian government is taking steps to implement positive train control (PTC), Transport Canada said.

The government has published a notice of intent in the Canada Gazette describing how the commonwealth will go about implementing enhanced train control (ETC), its version of PTC, in Canada as part of a broader effort to encourage rail safety and reduce the risk of serious accidents.  

The notice of intent, published Friday, is available here.

Because of the cross-border operations of U.S. and Canadian railways, both countries often seek to harmonize rail safety rules or implement regulations that complement each other. Both CN (NYSE: CNI) and Canadian Pacific (NYSE: CP) already deploy PTC within their U.S. operations.

The initial push to implement a Canadian version of PTC came from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada and the 2018 Railway Safety Act Review Panel. 

Transport Canada said Friday it has worked with railways and labor representatives via a train control working group on ways to implement the technology, which aims to alert train crews of potential dangers or stop a train if the technology foresees a collision or derailment, on specific corridors. 

For higher-risk corridors, trains would use ETC with more advanced levels of functionality known as automatic train protection. This means that the technology would be used to stop moving trains to prevent train collisions, derailments caused by excessive train speed. ETC would also prevent trains from entering unauthorized areas of tracks.

Lower-risk corridors would see ETC deployed with a basic level of functionality, meaning that driver advisory system equipment would be used to alert train crews to potential danger, such as if the train is exceeding speed restrictions or approaching a stop signal.

“Establishing an ETC system for Canadian railways is a priority for Transport Canada and is consistent with Transportation 2030, Transport Canada’s strategic plan for a safe, secure, green, innovative and integrated transportation system that supports trade and economic growth, a cleaner environment and the well-being of Canada’s middle class,” the notice of intent said.

According to the public notice, the current method of controlling train movements in Canada is “rule-based,” governed by the Canadian Rail Operating Rules, and with train movements managed and supervised by rail traffic controllers. Verbal clearances and other instructions are used in low-density corridors, while higher-density corridors deploy wayside signals and rely on train crews to observe and respond to those signals. 

As the government and stakeholders work to implement ETC, they will also need to develop new communications standards and protocols to ensure interoperability, or the ability of trains to communicate with one another, according to the public notice.

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Joanna Marsh

Joanna is a Washington, DC-based writer covering the freight railroad industry. She has worked for Argus Media as a contributing reporter for Argus Rail Business and as a market reporter for Argus Coal Daily.