US Class I railroads closer to fully implementing positive train control

A photograph of a train at a rail yard.

The U.S. operations of the Class I railroads are closer to reaching full compliance with the federal mandate to implement positive train control (PTC) by the end of December, according to data from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).

FRA’s data tracks how far along freight and passenger railroads are with implementing PTC, a safety technology aimed at reducing accidents because the technologies enable parties to see where trains are located on a network in relation to each other.

The data shows that Class I railroads are in 100% compliance in the following areas as of the end of June 30: 

  • Locomotives fully equipped and operable with PTC. 
  • Track segments operable with PTC.
  • Training completed.
  • Percentage of route miles governed by PTC that are in operation or are in revenue service demonstration, an advanced testing stage that is among the last steps to completing the installation and implementation of PTC.

There are two areas in which the Class I railroads have yet to be fully compliant. One is PTC system certification, which was at 86% at the end of the second quarter. This figure is flat with the first quarter, and it represents the percentage of host railroads that have received certification based on the approval of a PTC safety plan.

The other area is interoperability. The interoperability rate of the Class I railroads in the second quarter was 79%, compared with 58.7% at the end of the first quarter. 

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.

Overall rail network also nearing full implementation 

Looking at the overall U.S. network, nearly all the freight and passenger railroads required to have PTC installed on their networks are at the advanced stages of testing or their PTC systems are in revenue service, FRA said.

Among all the railroads that must comply with the PTC mandate, 98.8% of the 57,537 route miles required to have PTC systems were at the advanced testing stage or were in operation as of June 30. PTC is already operating on all the lines owned or controlled by the Class I railroads and other freight host railroads, while 76.1% of commuter rail routes mandated to have the technology have it on their networks.

Approximately 700 route miles still need PTC technology to be activated.

“I am highly pleased by the amount of progress railroads have made moving toward fully implementing PTC systems,” said FRA Administrator Ronald L. Batory. “While more work lies ahead, the significant advancements made thus far are encouraging. I applaud all railroads involved in this unprecedented effort for their intensive collaboration to get all concerned to the finish line.”

Furthermore, 65% of the 220 host-tenant relationships reported interoperability by the end of the second quarter, which is 17% higher than the first quarter of this year. Host-tenant relationships entail tenant railroad trains being able to receive signals or communication from the host railroad.

“This is the kind of synergy, partnership and cooperation we want to encourage,” said Batory, adding that FRA continues to direct additional staff resources to support railroads at risk of not fully implementing an FRA-certified and interoperable PTC system by the end-of-year deadline.

The FRA data released by FRA on Wednesday reflects PTC implementation as of June 30, the second quarter. According to a federal mandate, PTC must be fully implemented and running on qualifying railroads by the end of December 2020.

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Joanna Marsh.

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