The Class I railroads in the U.S. are closer to reaching interoperability between their rail networks, according to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).
By the end of the fourth quarter of 2019, about 48% of the Class I rail network was interoperable, meaning that nearly half of their tenant railroads mandated to have positive train control (PTC) technology installed on their networks were able to communicate with the PTC systems of the Class I host railroad. In the third quarter of 2019, 27.3% of the network was interoperable.
The U.S. operations of the Class I rail network, along with the commuter railroads and selected short line railroads are required to have PTC, a safety technology, fully functional by the federal deadline of December 31, 2020. Interoperability is viewed as the last piece in fulfilling the statutory mandate.
Specifically, 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.
Also by the end of the fourth quarter, the Class I railroads are mandated to have PTC equipped and operating on 100% of their locomotives, and they are to be completely finished installing PTC on their track segments, according to FRA. They are also to have trained all the employees that work with the technology.
While 14% of the Class I rail network still needs PTC system certification as of the fourth quarter, 98% of the route miles governed by PTC have PTC running in revenue or they are at the advanced field testing stage known as revenue service demonstration. The PTC system certification includes the conditional approval of a PTC safety plan.
Where the rail industry overall is still facing PTC implementation hurdles is with the commuter railroads and other host railroads affected by the mandate. About 35.5% of commuter railroads are interoperable, while 11.5% of host railroads in the other category are interoperable. Amtrak’s network is 18.8% interoperable, although PTC is operating on in advanced field testing stages on 99.8% of its network.
By the end of the fourth quarter, about 54.7% of commuter railroads had PTC running on their route miles, on either an operational basis or in an advanced testing phase. In the third quarter of 2019, this percentage was 41.9%. Meanwhile, 27.9% of the other host railroads required to implement PTC had technology running on their networks, on either an operational basis on in an advanced testing phase. This is up from 22.8% in the third quarter.
The FRA considered eight host railroads “at risk” for not fully implementing a PTC system by December 31, 2020. They include: the Alaska Railroad; The Belt Railway Company of Chicago; Florida East Coast Railway (including its tenant railroad, Brightline/Virgin Trains USA); Kansas City Terminal Railway; New Jersey Transit; New Mexico Rail Runner Express; Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad Corp. (Metra); and TEXRail.
Some of the host railroads in the other category that also connect to freight lines didn’t have any route miles that were interoperable by the end of the fourth quarter, although all their locomotives had PTC operating and they had trained all the employees required to have training, according to FRA.
According to their filings, Florida East Coast Railway (FEC) has all of its 69 locomotives equipped and operating with PTC. About 11.1 route miles of its 67 route miles were in the field testing stage, but none were in the RSD stage nor were they interoperable.
The Kansas City Terminal Railway has PTC operating on all four of its locomotives. It has completed field testing on its 7.25 miles, but advanced field testing and the completion of interoperability had yet to occur as of the fourth quarter.
The Belt Railway Company of Chicago needs to complete RSD a test section with BNSF, the company said in its progress filing for the fourth quarter. Its two locomotives have PTC already operating.