Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Safetran rolls out vital PTC

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Add Safetran Systems, a division of Invensys Rail Group, to the stable of major railway industry suppliers offering Positive Train Control technology.

safetran.jpg Safetran officially rolled out its Train Sentinel PTC system at the RSSI 2009 Exposition in Nashville, Tenn. Invensys acquired Train Sentinel, a vital technology, from Quantum Engineering in 2008. Train Sentinel has been operating on Kansas City Southern subsidiary Panama Canal Railway since 2005.

Safetran’s key PTC products are Train Sentinel, its version of a Wayside Interface Unit (WIU), and the wayside and onboard radio systems PTC requires to allow trains and control centers to communicate with each other. “In the complex and demanding PTC market, Safetran has paid particular attention to ensuring ease of use, installation, and maintenance,” said Safetran Vice President of Positive Train Control and Locomotive Equipment Rick Soldo. “The huge demands for equipment mean that existing signaling and communications teams and train maintenance staff will, be severely strained. Safetran’s engineering services division is being primed to offer support and services ranging from design to implementation.”

“When Congress passed the Railroad Safety Improvement Act last year, it set North America’s biggest railroads on a path to greater capacity and efficiency, and a whole host of linked benefits thanks to its insistence on the installation of PTC across the country,” said Soldo. “The downside? That it all has to be installed by 2015. It is a major shift in the fundamentals of the railroad business. PTC has clearly been around for some time now. The problem has always been that nobody was able to pull all the technology together while maintaining interoperability. Getting pan-industry agreement on a set of standards of this magnitude isn’t easy.”

Soldo says there has been a growing recognition that PTC is justifiable commercially as well as in safety and operational terms. “For some time now,” he says, “the question with PTC has not been whether it will gain acceptance, but when. The benefits are so wide-ranging that generating a business case has become ever-more realistic. Once you equip a railroad with communications-based train control such as our PTC solutions, you can improve fuel usage, make maintenance more efficient, and most important, increase capacity. It’s really gained momentum since BNSF, Union Pacific, Norfolk Southern, and CSX almost immediately formed a pan-industry group aimed at specifying the interoperability standards required for PTC, and putting them into practice. The short-term impact is that while traditional signaling systems will undoubtedly continue to be complemented by PTC in the short-term, in the long-term, PTC may well replace them. As time goes on, more and more operational decisions will be based on PTC.”

Soldo called PTC’s requirements—a detailed implementation plan submitted by April 2010 and completion by 2015—“unquestionably ambitious,” especially in terms of equipment and personnel. “This will be an enormous challenge to railroads,” he said. “Economic conditions have changed with freight railroads reporting demanding market conditions, and some reporting an impact on revenue. Even so, PTC is the top priority—they absolutely have to do it and expect to fund it themselves.”

With costs estimated at $8 billion to $10 billion, PTC is a huge commitment for the railroads. For suppliers, “the North American signaling market is experiencing something of a calm before the storm,” Soldo said. “Once interoperability is agreed upon, the market will boom. Safetran is able to accommodate this and is already anticipating the Interoperability Group’s requirements by developing its entire range to ensure it complies as soon as possible after the specification is released.”