NTSB Urges FRA to Incorporate New PTC Technology

Written by Carolina Worrell, Senior Editor
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The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is calling on the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to formulate a plan to “incorporate promising new [Positive Train Control (PTC)] technology into the existing system that prevents certain train collisions.”

In a report (download below) released on Nov. 1, the NTSB identified situations where new and emerging technologies can improve the nation’s existing PTC system and benefit rail safety.

“Implementation of PTC across our nation’s rail system is undoubtedly a safety win—one the NTSB supported for over five decades,” said NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy. “And yet, we haven’t achieved zero deaths on our railroads, which means there’s more we can and must do to strengthen safety.”   

In the report, NTSB investigators identified the following safety issues with existing PTC systems:

  • ​“Insufficient information about train location during restricted-speed operations.
  • “Obsolete exceptions to PTC use in terminal environments.
  • “Overreliance on administrative controls to prevent unsafe use of switching mode on main tracks.
  • “Unsafe train incursions into established working limits.”

Additionally, NTSB urged FRA to “complete and publish the results of current research into new PTC technology and develop a plan to implement any promising technologies.” NTSB also recommended that FRA require railroads to “adopt engineering controls that automatically return PTC to the active mode following switching operations and require railroads adopt engineering controls that eliminate the risk of miscommunication between dispatchers and roadway workers in charge regarding established working limits and PTC protection.”

The report also recommended FRA work with railroads to remove terminal exceptions granted under federal regulations by using new technology.

“This report outlines concrete steps to save lives because part of our mission is to ensure regulators continually raise the bar on safety, and that includes evaluating the lifesaving potential of new and emerging technologies,” NTSB said.

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