One hundred percent of the tracks owned by the U.S. operations of the Class I railroads have completed the advanced field testing of positive train control (PTC), a federally mandated safety technology that must be implemented on all Class I railroads, Amtrak and certain commuter rail lines by December 31 of this year, according to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).
The advanced field testing stage, known as revenue service demonstration (RSD), is among the last steps to completing the installation and implementation of PTC.
Meanwhile, 58.7% of the U.S. Class I rail network is interoperable as of the end of the first quarter of 2020, compared with 48% by the end of the fourth quarter of 2019, FRA said.
Interoperability occurs when the controlling locomotives and/or cab cars of any host railroad and tenant railroad operating on the same PTC-equipped main line are able to communicate with and respond to the PTC system, even when trains are moving over property boundaries. The final step is interoperability with other trains, which is viewed as the last piece in fulfilling the statutory mandate.
Looking at the overall industry, about 98% of the nearly 58,000 route miles in the U.S. that are required to have positive train control installed are in RSD as of March 31, FRA said. All lines owned or controlled by the Class I railroads and other freight host railroads have PTC operational on their tracks.
The networks required to have PTC installed are the U.S. operations of the Class I railroads, Amtrak and a host of commuter and regional rail lines. About 63% of the commuter railroads are in the RSD stage.
Industry interoperability as of the end of the first quarter was 48% for the 229 host-tenant relationships required to have PTC.
Four commuter railroads are at risk for not fully implementing a PTC system on all required main lines by December 31: New Jersey Transit; TEXRail; Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad Corporation, also known as Metra; and New Mexico Rail Runner Express, also known as Rio Metro.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office late last month described how some railroads were having problems with PTC implementation because of software and vendor issues.
As FRA evaluates how to gauge non-compliance, the agency said it is considering the following factors: “(1) the percentage of mandated route miles currently governed by a PTC system, including RSD; (2) any unresolved technical issue in implementing a compliant PTC system; (3) the percentage of a host railroad’s tenant railroads that have achieved required interoperability; and (4) a host railroad’s expected date to submit its PTC safety plan to FRA, necessary to obtain PTC system certification.”