FRA says PTC deadline won’t be met

Written by Douglas John Bowen

The Federal Railroad Administration says substantial progress has been made in establishing Positive Train Control (PTC) in the U.S., but acknowledges that the congressionally mandated deadline to do so, Dec. 15, 2015, will not be met.

In the Executive Summary of FRA’s 50-page report to Congress, “Positive Train Control Implementation Status, Issues, and Impacts,” FTA states, “Although the initial PTC Implementation Plans (PTCIP) submitted by the applicable railroads to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) for approval stated they would complete implementation by the 2015 deadline, all of the plans were based on the assumption that there would be no technical or programmatic issues in the design, development, integration, deployment, and testing of the PTC systems they adopted.

“However, since FRA approved the PTCIPs, both freight and passenger railroads have encountered significant technical and programmatic issues that make accomplishment of these plans questionable,” FRA says.

“Given the current state of development and availability of the required hardware and software, along with deployment considerations, most railroads will likely not be able to complete full RSIA-required implementation of PTC by December 31, 2015. Partial deployment of PTC can likely be achieved; however, the extent of which is dependent upon successful resolution of known technical and programmatic issues and any new emergent issues,” the report says.

FRA breaks down the “technical obstacles” into seven categories, including: Communications Spectrum Availability; Radio Availability; Design Specification Availability; Back Office Server and Dispatch System Availability; Track Database Verification; Installation Engineering; and Reliability and Availability.

Acknowledging significant private-sector efforts to meet the mandate, FRA notes, “To date, railroads have raised and expended more than $1.5 billion of private capital to try and resolve these issues. The Federal Government has distributed $50 million through the Railroad Safety Technology Grant Program. Solutions to these issues have either not been identified or cannot be implemented by the current December 31, 2015, deadline.”

Congress passed the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, which included the mandate to install PTC ON “each Class I railroad carrier and each entity providing regularly scheduled intercity or commuter rail passenger transportation” on selected rail lines in risk-priority order, including lines over which specific “poison- or toxic-by-inhalation hazardous materials” are transported.

The delays in implementing PTC as mandated have been anticipated by many, including within Congress itself. Earlier this year, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, working on renewal of surface transportation funding, recommended that the mandated deadline for PTC be extended by five years, from Dec. 31, 2015, to Dec. 31, 2020.

The PTC legislation passed by Congress 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.