Positive Train Control Implementation Status, Issues, and Impacts

Posted by Content Coordinator on Thursday, August 30th, 2012


Executive Summary

The Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (RSIA) established a completion date for the installation of interoperable Positive Train Control (PTC) systems by December 31, 2015. The RSIA also required the Secretary of Transportation to transmit a report to specified congressional committees no later than December 31, 2012, on the progress of the railroad carriers in implementing such PTC systems. This report satisfies the statutory reporting requirement.

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. 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 technical obstacles that have been identified to date fall into seven different categories:

  • Communications Spectrum Availability
  • Radio Availability
  • Design Specification Availability
  • Back Office Server and Dispatch System Availability
  • Track Database Verification
  • Installation Engineering
  • Reliability and Availability

The programmatic obstacles fall into two categories:

  • Budgeting and Contracting
  • Stakeholder Availability

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.

Where solutions have not been identified, FRA and the railroads are working together to find solutions that support the completion of PTC system installation as soon as possible. Where solutions have been identified, all attempts are being made to accelerate their implementation. FRA and the railroads are also working to identify any additional issues and solutions; however, this effort is hampered by the novel nature of the issues. PTC implementation, on the scale required by the RSIA, has never been attempted anywhere in the world.


Read full report (PDF) here: Positive Train Control Implementation Status, Issues, and Impacts

About the Federal Railroad Administration
“The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) was created by the Department of Transportation Act of 1966 (49 U.S.C. 103, Section 3(e)(1)). The purpose of FRA is to: promulgate and enforce rail safety regulations; administer railroad assistance programs; conduct research and development in support of improved railroad safety and national rail transportation policy; provide for the rehabilitation of Northeast Corridor rail passenger service; and consolidate government support of rail transportation activities.”

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