Positive News: US Freight Railroads Reach PTC Milestone

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) has announced positive news. The US Class 1 railroads have reached a PTC milestone. Specifically, at the close of 2018 they had installed positive train control (PTC) on 83.2 percent of the legally required Class 1 rail network. That equates to 44,695 miles of 53,732 miles. This now means two things. Firstly, Class 1 railroads met the legal standard given for 2018. And secondly, the railroads are perfectly on track for meeting the final deadline of 31 December 2020. Railroads will have had to have implemented and validated PTC on 100 percent of the required network by this date.

Between now and that deadline the Class 1 railroads – of which there are seven – will put the PTC equipment through its paces. They will make sure it is completely interoperable and allows for seamless operation. This is important because different railroads routinely run on each other’s networks.

Ian Jefferies, the President and CEO of AAR, said:

“Each day, the freight railroads expand PTC operations, further reducing the risk of accidents on the nation’s rail network. By the end of 2018, the Class I railroads had installed and were operating PTC on the vast majority of their required networks, met all other statutory PTC requirements and remained on track to fully implement this critical safety technology by the final 2020 deadline. The railroads’ commitment to safety is unwavering, and this industry is proud of its accomplishments in this immense undertaking.”

Class 1 Railroads’ Investment in PTC and Progress

By 31 December 2018 the Class 1 railroads had invested 10.5 billion US dollars (9.27 billion euros) in PTC. These funds were allocated to the development, installation and implementation of the system.

The Class 1 railroads had also completed the following statutory tasks:

  • equipped 100 percent of their locomotives with PTC
  • installed 100 percent of the necessary wayside units
  • installed all the required radio towers
  • trained 100 percent of their employees

Positive Train Control and the Law

The US government passed the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (RSIA) in which it mandated PTC. The act maintains that PTC must prevent four types of train accidents. They are:

  • trains colliding with other trains
  • derailments caused by speeds that are too high
  • unauthorised entry of trains on to track section where maintenance work is occurring
  • trains moving through a track switch left in the incorrect position

By the end of 2018 the Class 1 railroads were legally required to achieve the following:

  • install all hardware
  • acquire all radio spectrum necessary
  • implement PTC on more than 50 percent of the required route miles
  • train all required employees

As an incentive, the Class 1 railroads that successfully met this deadline are eligible for a further 2 years during which they can test their system. This gives them time to ensure it is wholly interoperable. For example, the PTC equipment on the locomotive of one Class 1 railroad must work with the PTC equipment on the tracks of another Class 1 railroad. By the end of 2020 then PTC must be fully implemented across the US network.

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