Thursday, June 18, 2015

PTC for the masses

Written by 
PTC for the masses

A large percentage of the general public, specifically, the passenger-train-riding public, does not understand Positive Train Control—if they’ve even heard of it. For that matter, neither do many of the legislators that imposed the year-end PTC implementation deadline, but that’s another story. And neither do most of the reporters that attempt to cover rail transportation, but that’s yet another story.

Caltrain has decided to do something about that, and has released a video that provides the public “with an inside look at the new advanced signal system the rail agency is installing to meet the federal government’s Positive Train Control requirement by the end of 2015.”

Caltrain goes on to explain what PTC does, and what its particular version of PTC involves: “The system, known as Communications Based Overlay Signal System (CBOSS)/Positive Train Control (PTC), is an advanced signal system that will equip the Caltrain corridor with federally mandated safety technology by December 31, 2015 and increase system capacity to help accommodate future increases in ridership demand. The system will be interoperable with other rail systems that access the Caltrain corridor. . . . PTC is intended to prevent train-to-train collisions, overspeed derailments, and movement into established work zones or through a misaligned switch.”

OK, great, but . . . Let’s say I’m Average Joe Commuter, reading this before I look at the video: “Overlay? What the (expletive deleted) is an overlay? Communications Based? With what? Cell phones? What’s an established work zone? Where’s my copy of Railroad Jargon for Non-Railroaders?

OK, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit.

The video, nonetheless, is very well done, with good graphics and a good, easy-to-grasp explanation of how CBOSS works, and—most important—how it improves safety. It’s just technical enough to be interesting, yet not overwhelming to people who normally can’t distinguish a cab car from a locomotive. Take a look:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RudWu_DB6Tw&feature=youtu.be

Signaling and train control, PTC in particular, is the most technically complex area of the rail industry, usually misunderstood, and rarely correctly explained by the media, even by reporters who don’t have an agenda. Caltrain has done us all a favor by producing this video for the rail-riding public.

The Association of American Railroads has a similar video, also nicely done, though a bit more detailed:

https://www.aar.org/Pages/PTC---Meeting-the-Challenge-and-Getting-It-Right.aspx

But AAR’s video (which, by the way, explains—in sharp contrast to Caltrain’s information—why the federal deadline won’t be met) is buried on its website. Oh it’s there all right, but where? And the link to it on the PTC page, a couple of layers down, doesn’t indicate that it’s a video.

Perhaps, with the PTC deadline looming and a strong effort under way to get it extended, it’s time to pull out all the stops and make any and all information on PTC more accessible, like Caltrain has done.

William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief

With Railway Age since 1992, William C. Vantuono has broadened and deepened the magazine's coverage of the technological revolution that is so swiftly changing the industry. He has also strengthened Railway Age’s leadership position in industry affairs with the conferences he conducts, among them Next-Generation Train Control, Light Rail, and Rail Insights. He is the author or co-author or editor of several books, among them All About Railroading; John Armstrong’s The Railroad: What It Is, What It Does; Railway Age’s Comprehensive Railroad Dictionary; and Planning, Engineering, and Operating Light Rail, With Applications in New Jersey.

Get the latest rail news

Rail news and analysis from Railway Age, IRJ and RT&S by email