A Step Forward for Amtrak and Positive Train Control

Amtrak has been working with BNSF Railway to get Positive Train Control (PTC) in place on a number of track sections (subdivisions) owned by BNSF and used by Amtrak for its passenger services.

The Amtrak California Zephyr © David Gubler under licence

The first in line for the PTC upgrade are BNSF sections serving Amtrak’s California Zephyr passenger train, which operates between Chicago and the San Francisco Bay Area, and the Southwest Chief, a high-speed Amtrak passenger train serving the Midwestern and Southwestern United States. It is expected that PTC will be fully implemented on the BNSF track sections by the end of August.

In 2015 Congress voted to extend the deadline for PTC implementation to 31 December 2018, with an option to further extend by no more than two years – i.e. 31 December 2020. Amtrak is set to meet the 2018 deadline on track it controls and it is working with industry partners to ensure that Positive Train Control is fully rolled out on track it uses but does not control.

Given that some sections of track may qualify for an exemption to the 2018 deadline, Amtrak is looking at all of its routes to make sure it can offer a single level of safety across its operating network by 1 January 2019. The company has also said that in the rare event of compliance issues Amtrak will suspend services and seek alternative modes of service until the matter has been fixed.

It is not only the case that Amtrak uses track owned by other companies. There are also train operating companies that run on Amtrak’s tracks. Amtrak is working with these operators to make sure they have enough PTC-enabled rolling stock to run normal services by the end of the year.

“Amtrak’s highest priority is ensuring the safety of our passengers, our crews and the communities we serve, and full implementation of PTC will make the entire network safer. While we are excited to achieve this milestone, we must continue to work together to activate PTC and make the national railroad network safer,”

said Ken Hylander, Amtrak Executive Vice President of Safety.

Amtrak, which runs more than 300 trains a day across the majority of the US and in three Canadian provinces, says 380 of its 444 locomotives and fully PTC-ready and 104 of 120 radio towers have been fully prepared for PTC as well.


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