PTC 87% Done: FRA

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
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PTC diagram courtesy BNSF.

With 16 months left until the Congressionally mandated Dec. 31, 2020 deadline for full implementation of PTC (Positive Train Control), the U.S. railroad industry is drawing close, according to the Federal Railroad Administration’s Second-Quarter 2019 PTC Progress Report.

Based on the railroads’ Second-Quarter 2019 PTC Progress Reports, which were due to FRA by July 31, 2019, the 42 railroads subject to the statutory PTC mandate “are making steady progress,” FRA announced on Sept. 9. “As of June 30, 2019, PTC systems were in operation on approximately 50,300 (87%) of the nearly 58,000 route-miles required to be equipped by Congress. This reflects a 4% increase since first-quarter 2019. Nonetheless, railroads must still complete significant work to fully implement their PTC systems by Dec. 31, 2020, especially with respect to activating PTC systems on the remaining required main lines and achieving the necessary interoperability with their tenant railroads.”

Class I freight railroads reported that PTC systems are in operation on approximately 91% of their required main lines as of June 2019, a 4% increase since the first quarter. As a host railroad (owned trackage), Amtrak reports that approximately 899 of Amtrak’s 901 (99.8%) required route-miles (Northeast Corridor, Michigan and California) are governed by a PTC system. In addition, Amtrak informed FRA that its operations are currently governed by a PTC system on at least 16,032 of the 19,119 route-miles (84%) where Amtrak operates as a tenant railroad on other railroads’ PTC-equipped main lines.

Host commuter railroads reported that as of June 2019, they were operating their PTC systems in revenue service demonstration (RSD), a type of required advanced field testing, on approximately 698 route-miles and in revenue service on 443 route-miles, which, in total, is 37% of the host commuter railroads’ 3,111 required route-miles and a 12% increase since 1Q2019.

“All railroads have committed to fully implementing PTC systems on the required main lines by Dec. 31, 2020, if not earlier,” FRA noted. “Nonetheless, Administrator Batory and senior FRA officials continue to host meetings with dozens of individual railroads and groups of railroads, vendors, suppliers and subject matter experts to actively monitor developments and identify potential solutions where challenges arise.

“In addition, regular meetings are being held with the executive leadership of Amtrak and each commuter railroad that operates on or near Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor and/or the commuter railroad’s own PTC-mandated main lines in the Northeast.

“Finally, FRA will host the remaining four of six PTC Collaboration Sessions over the next 16 months to further support all railroads subject to the statutory mandate and to convene the industry’s technical experts to share best practices and jointly resolve common technical problems.”

Since 2008, through FRA, the U.S. Department of Transportation has awarded nearly $2.6 billion in grant funding and loan financing to support railroads’ implementation of PTC systems, which FRA said “amounts to nearly 18% of the industry’s estimates for initial PTC system implementation costs” of roughly $15 billion.

“FRA is determined to help all affected railroads successfully satisfy the statutory deadline for full PTC system installation, testing and certification, and ultimately initiate operations governed by PTC on all required territories,” said FRA Administrator Ronald L. Batory. “FRA is currently directing its focus and resources on the technical challenges facing the railroads, including commencing revenue service demonstrations, interoperability testing and safety plans.”

To view FRA’s infographics summarizing railroads’ progress toward fully implementing PTC systems as of June 30, 2019, visit https://www.fra.dot.gov/ptc. To view the public version of each railroad’s Quarterly PTC Progress Report for Quarter 2 of 2019, visit each railroad’s PTC docket on https://www.regulations.gov/. Railroads’ PTC docket numbers are available at https://www.fra.dot.gov/Page/P0628.

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