PTC: 0.4% To Go (!)

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
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The “magic number” is 100%, and as of the end of third-quarter 2020 (Sept. 30), the railroad industry had reached 99.6% of fully implementing Positive Train Control (PTC) systems by the Dec. 31, 2020 federal deadline, according to the Federal Railroad Administration’s quarterly status update on railroads’ self-reported progress.

All railroads subject to the statutory mandate are currently operating PTC systems in revenue service or in advanced field testing, known as revenue service demonstration (RSD), FRA reported. As of Sept. 30, PTC technology remains to be activated on approximately 223 required route-miles, based on railroads’ Third Quarter 2020 PTC Progress Reports, which were due Oct. 31.

PTC systems were in RSD or in operation on approximately 57,314 route-miles — 99.6% of the 57,537 route-miles subject to the mandate. This represents a 0.8 percentage point increase since the second quarter of 2020, and indicates that PTC technology was activated on an additional 468 route-miles during the third quarter.

As previously reported, PTC systems are currently governing operations on all PTC-mandated main lines owned or controlled by Class I railroads and other freight host railroads. Based on third quarter reports, 92.3% of commuter railroads’ mandated route-miles are governed by PTC—a 16.2 percentage point increase since the previous quarter. In addition, Amtrak reported that a PTC system is now in operation on all PTC-mandated main lines Amtrak owns or controls—a 0.03 percentage point increase since FRA’s last status update.

In addition, railroads “have made additional gains toward completing interoperability testing and meeting the interoperability requirements under the statute and FRA regulations,” FRA noted. As of the third quarter, host railroads reported that interoperability has been achieved by 84% of the 219 applicable host-tenant railroad relationships—an 18.6 percentage point increase since the second quarter of 2020. 

“Full implementation of PTC is in sight, owing to everyone’s unparalleled cooperation and determination,” said FRA Administrator Ronald L. Batory. “I’m incredibly proud of the intensive collaborations we have forged. Once complete, railroads, rail workers and rail passengers will all benefit from this transformational accomplishment in railroad safety.”

FRA Administrator Ronald L. Batory

Based on the criteria FRA utilizes to evaluate the risk of noncompliance, FRA currently considers one railroad, New Jersey Transit (NJT), at risk of not fully implementing PTC technology on all its required main lines by Dec. 31. Specifically, NJT reported it is operating a PTC system in RSD on approximately 48% of its 375.9 PTC-mandated route-miles. FRA said it “continues to direct additional resources and technical assistance to NJT, including on-site support to oversee and expedite testing and RSD. FRA’s leadership and PTC specialists meet with NJT multiple times each month to provide advice regarding its schedule and the remaining actions NJT must take to fully implement an FRA-certified and interoperable PTC system on NJT’s required main lines by the statutory deadline. Furthermore, FRA regularly sends correspondence to NJT, the New Jersey Department of Transportation and NJT’s major PTC system vendors and suppliers to underscore the importance of timely PTC system implementation.”

“In addition to providing sustained direct technical assistance and on-site support to railroads, FRA held nine PTC Symposia and Collaboration Sessions, and dozens of routine meetings with host and tenant railroads, suppliers, vendors and industry associations,” the agency said. “In addition, [since Ron Batory has been FRA Administrator], FRA has continuously improved upon the speed with which the agency reviews railroads’ PTC filings. Finally, the U.S. Department of Transportation has supported full and timely implementation of PTC technology by providing approximately $3.4 billion in grant and loan funding to support railroads and other entities that sought federal financial assistance for that purpose.” 

To view detailed infographics depicting railroads’ progress toward fully implementing PTC systems as of Sept. 30, 2020, visit

To view the public version of each railroad’s Quarterly PTC Progress Report (Form FRA F 6180.165, OMB Control No. 2130-0553) for Quarter 3 of 2020, visit

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