APTA Survey: Over One Third of Commuter Railways Using or Testing PTC

Photo: New Jersey Transit

According to a new survey by the American Public Transportation Association, 34 percent of the 30 or so commuter railroads in the United States are testing, demonstrating, or fully operating their equipment using positive train control or PTC systems; technology that must be installed by Dec. 31 this year and fully in use by Dec. 31, 2020, according to a Federal Railroad Administration mandate.

[Side note: FRA is holding the last of three PTC symposiums on Aug. 20, which will cover lessons learned and best practices for PTC Safety Plans, which are necessary for railroads to obtain PTC System Certification and to achieve full PTC system implementation under the agency’s statutory mandate. The agency has also awarded $272 million in PTC grants to date and made available $250 million more on May 15 to help freight, commuter, and passenger railroads comply with the PTC mandate.]

APTA noted that the commuter railroad industry’s cost to implement PTC will exceed $4.1 billion; technology it said represented an “unparalleled technical challenge in scale, complexity, and time required” for installation.

The trade group also pointed out that the challenges of PTC implementation include: a limited number of PTC-qualified vendors simultaneously in demand by both the passenger and freight railroad industries to develop, design, and test the technology; diagnosing and resolving software issues; securing adequate access to track and locomotives for installation and testing; and achieving interoperability, as commuter rail systems operate in mixed traffic with other freight and passenger railroads.

Yet APTA’s survey stressed that the commuter rail industry is “making substantial progress” towards PTC implementation. According to its poll, as of June 30:

  • 85 percent of 13,698 pieces of onboard equipment have been installed on locomotives, cab cars, etc.;
  • 79 percent of 14,083 wayside (on track equipment) installations have been completed;
  • 78 percent of back office control systems are ready for operation;
  • 74 percent of 14,847 employees have been trained in PTC; and
  • 34 percent of commuter railroads are in testing, revenue service demonstration, or are operating their trains with PTC.


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