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PSR and PTC: Could They, Should They, Must They Coexist?

Written by Steve Ditmeyer, Principal, Transportation Technology and Economics

Editor’s Note: At an Oct. 8, 2019 presentation before the W.A.R.E.S. (Washington Area Railway Engineering Society) Annual Conference, Steve Ditmeyer, Principal of Transportation Technology and Economics, presented his vision of what he calls “NextGen Train Control,” or “What comes next after Positive Train Control.” Following are excerpts from his talk. The entire presentation can be downloaded from the link following this story. – William C. Vantuono

The railroad and Federal Railroad Administration people who worked on PTC defined it as a safety-only, non-vital overlay of the wayside signal systems. The Association of American Railroads defines the fundamentals of Precision Scheduled Railroading as “reducing the number of handlings of freight cars and containers. Every time equipment is handled, it stops, and when it is stopped, it is not being productive. Facilities are needed to store equipment when it stops, and it costs everybody money when freight cars are not being moved. PSR will reduce the handlings and produce a network that can move with more fluidity, and that has some predictability.”

I am defining NextGen Train Control as focusing on improving the safety of PTC and increasing the efficiency, economic viability and financial success of railroads well beyond the little that is achieved with current PTC systems.

What must railroads do to their PTC systems to achieve NextGen Train Control, to improve both safety and efficiency? They must:

• Make sure that the locations of ends of trains, as well as the fronts, are known to the dispatchers and train crews to prevent rear-end collisions in addition to head-on collisions.

• Add GPS receivers and data radios on maintenance-of-way (m/w) vehicles and machines to make sure that dispatchers and train crews know where they are.

• Install switch position sensors on all switches, powered and manual.

• Incorporate intelligent grade crossings into PTC systems.

To improve safety, railroads must:

• Write new, simplified rulebooks for NextGen Train Control—to replace NORAC and GCOR—that reflect the new paradigm of train operations, decoupled from fixed blocks and wayside signals, that provides continuous real-time information on train location and speed.

• Investigate systems for improving detection of broken rails with something other than track circuits.

• Add on-board cab map displays on passenger locomotives showing track profile and alignment for situational awareness

To improve efficiency, railroads must:

• Integrate PTC with AEI train consist information so that the continuous real-time information on location and speed of trains, locomotives and cars is available to dispatchers and customers.

• Implement m/w terminals so that continuous real-time information on location of m/w vehicles and inspectors is to sent to dispatchers, so that trains and m/w operations can be managed in the same manner, rather than with the different procedures used over the years.

• Decouple PTC from wayside signal systems and fixed blocks, and implement moving-block operations.

• Transmit movement authorities digitally, not by signals.

• Integrate PTC with on-board, locomotive health reporting, energy management, work order reporting, control center and precision dispatching systems; tactical and strategic traffic planners; locomotive, car,and crew scheduling systems; and crew registration and time-keeping systems.

Total system performance is singularly important. Components or parts of a system need not be optimized. Trade-offs between components may enhance or hinder system performance. Components linked together in a balanced system will produce greater end results than the sum of individual components.

A properly implemented NextGen Train Control system will get the right information to the right people at the right time to run a railroad on schedule with precision, safety, efficiency and profitability, and to support its customers’ supply chains with improved visibility and service.

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