RSSI PTC forum: Interoperability the final hurdle

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
image description

FRA Associate Administrator for Railroad Safety and Chief Safety Officer Bob Lauby (at podium). William C. Vantuono photo.

OMAHA, MAY 21, RSSI PTC SEMINAR – U.S. Class I railroads have made significant progress implementing Positive Train Control, to the extent that all the requirements for the Dec. 31, 2018 interim deadline will be met, making them eligible to apply, if needed, for an extension to Dec. 31, 2020 to complete their systems.

At a Railway Systems Suppliers Inc. (RSSI)-convened PTC Seminar attended by more than 200 people, Robert C. Lauby, P.E., Associate Administrator for Railroad Safety and Chief Safety Officer, and Carolyn Hayward Williams, Director of Signaling and Train Control, Office of Safety, Federal Railroad Administration provided an update and guidance and answered questions about PTC. All Class I’s, several Class II and III carriers, Amtrak and two commuter railroads (Metra, Chicago, and Metrolink, Southern California) were represented.

“We’re just seven months short of an important milestone,” Lauby stated. “Successful implementation of PTC is our highest priority. We’re prepared to do all we can to assist the industry. Our primary goal is ensuring that all railroads meet the statutory deadlines.”

The latest data, current as of March 31, shows PTC systems are in operation on approximately 60% of freight railroads route-miles required to be governed by PTC—up from 56% from Q4 2017 and 16% on Dec. 31, 2016. Passenger railroads have made slower progress, with PTC systems in operation on 25% of required route-miles, up only 1% from the previous quarter.

Fourteen railroads report they have installed 100% of the hardware necessary for PTC system implementation, as of March 31, 2018.  Railroads’ self-reported data indicates that during Q1 2018, six other railroads—Altamont Corridor Express, Central Florida Rail Corridor (Sunrail), Conrail, Maryland Area Regional Commuter (MARC), MTA Metro-North Railroad, and South Florida Regional Transportation Authority (Tri-rail)—increased their percentage of hardware installation by more than 10%, compared to Q4 2017.

Lauby stressed, however, that FRA does have “some concerns.” In particular, there are several carriers, most of them commuter railroads, that may not qualify for the extension to 2020 as they “have not complied with various statutory milestones.” He said that FRA “has taken some enforcement action,” and is “currently considering additional enforcement action,” but “fines for the sake of fines don’t work, other than that they can be an effective means to give railroads a ‘kick in the pants.’ We have to follow the statutory requirements. Only Congress can change them. We will grant an extension to any railroad that meets the statutory requirements, but FRA has no authority to grant waivers or relief from the deadline. Implementation plans must be up to date. The only flexibility that exists is for commuter railroads, for revenue service testing.”

Lauby said FRA has met with 41 railroads individually, and “all said they were on schedule. None said they would not meet the interim deadline. A few stated that funding was an issue. Generally, software testing causes the most delays and requires the most time to correct issues. “

FRA has conditionally certified Safety Plans for Amtrak, BNSF, Canadian Pacific, CSX, Kansas City Southern, Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific, Southern California Regional Rail Authority and SEPTA. CN, North County Transit District and Genesee & Wyoming property Portland & Western are under review.

Williams pointed to several “common industry challenges”:

  • PTC is a performance-based regulation; it’s difficult to ensure compliance with statutory milestones.
  • There are a limited number of vendors, all of which are resource-constrained.
  • A few railroads are experiencing significant technical issues with hardware and software.
  • Some railroads have only recently begun interoperability testing.
  • Several host freight carriers report that their tenant passenger train operators have made variable and/or unknown progress on equipping locomotives.
  • Office and wayside installation and maintenance do come under HOS (Hours of Service). FRA is “in discussions with the AAR, given the many aspects of PTC.”

Norfolk Southern Assistant Vice President Mechanical Tom Schnautz, Chairman of the Association of American Railroads PTC Interoperability Committee, weighed in on the issues with which railroads have been dealing. “The logistics of interoperability for tenant operators on a host railroad is a huge undertaking,” he said. “Interoperability is the largest remaining issue—a major concern for all the railroads.”

In terms of ongoing maintenance of PTC and what it will cost, “Some wayside equipment installed in 2008 is already being refreshed,” Schnautz noted. “In the coming years, what will vendor support be? A major concern is ongoing support of configuration management.”

FRA will be conducting PTC symposiums over the next three months on best practices. The first one will be June 15 on alternative schedules. The second and third, to be conducted in July and August (dates to be announced), will cover testing best practices and interoperability; and safety plan submissions, respectively.

“PTC is an example of how the industry can come together and cooperate to make things happen,” concluded RSSI Chairman Franklin Brown, President of Dixie Precast. “The railroads have challenged us (suppliers) to continue to develop and improve equipment and software.”

Categories: Analytics, C&S, Class I, Commuter/Regional, Freight, High Performance, Intercity, M/W, News, Passenger, PTC, Regulatory, Safety, Short Lines & Regionals Tags: , ,