Wednesday, January 13, 2010

FRA sets rule outlining implementation of PTC

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The Federal Railroad Administration late Tuesday published its ruling for implementation of positive train control (PTC) on much of the nation’s major rail route map, including those routes where passenger and freight traffic comingle. The rule takes effect in March.

fra_dot_logo.jpgIn its summary of a 475-page document, 49 CFR Parts 229, 234, 235, and 236 [Docket No. FRA-2008-0132, Notice No. 3], FRA said it was “issuing regulations implementing a requirement of the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 that defines criteria for certain passenger and freight rail lines requiring the implementation of positive train control (PTC) systems. This final rule includes required functionalities of PTC system technology and the means by which PTC systems will be.

“This final rule also describes the contents of the PTC implementation plans required by the statute and contains the process for submission of those plans for review and approval by FRA. These regulations could also be voluntarily complied with by entities not mandated to install PTC systems,” FRA said.

FRA asserted, “This is a final rule; however, FRA has identified specific provisions for which we are considering making changes to the final rule, if warranted by the public comments received. We expect to publish our response to those comments, including any possible changes to the rule made as a result of them, as soon as possible following the end of the comment period. However, the limited areas of this rule open for additional comment do not affect the requirement for railroads to prepare and submit plans in accordance with the deadlines established in this final rule.”

The new rule was spurred in large measure by the high-profile collision in September 2008 of a Metrolink passenger train with a Union Pacific freight train in Chatsworth, Calif., which killed 25 people. Also cited were the 1996 crash of two New Jersey Transit trains in Secaucus, N.J., and a 1996 Maryland Transit Administration train collision with an Amtrak train northwest of Washington, D.C. In late 2008, Congress passed the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, which mandated PTC for large portions of the nation's rail network by 2015.

Amtrak is offered some leeway under the new rule, after it had noted that implementing PTC on some low-traffic rail routes could jeopardize state fiscal support for new services. The new rule also allows FRA to set a minimal exception to when freight lines have to install PTC for hauling hazmat loads.

But FRA appears to have rejected arguments against requiring a separate PTC screen display for each crew member in the cab.

“This new strategy is the result of extensive research into the best way to protectpassengers and crew alike in collisions with other trains, vehicles at highway-rail grade crossings and other obstructions," said FRA spokesman Mark Paustenbach.