GAO Report Finds Interoperability Issues Plague PTC Deployment

A new report issued by the U.S. Government Accountability Office on July 31 indicates that “vendor and software issues” are currently “major or moderate challenges” for Positive Train Control or PTC technology implementation, with more than half of railroads reporting that “interoperability” is also a “major or moderate challenge” that can be “complicated by software issues and coordinating host and tenant schedules,” among other issues.

[Above photo by Amtrak.]

“Amtrak, commuter railroads, and freight railroads continue to make progress implementing PTC but significant work remains to achieve interoperability among the railroads’ individual PTC systems,” the GAO said in its report, though nearly all railroads covered by the PTC mandate “plan to complete full implementation in the last quarter of 2020.”

As a result of a final rule issued in 2014, some 41 major U.S. railroads – including 29 intercity passenger railroads and Amtrak – must acquire, install, test, certify, and then deploy PTC technology on their locomotives; technology designed to prevent train-to-train collisions, over-speed derailments, incursions into established work zone limits, and the movement of a train through a switch left in the wrong position.

[The video below, created by Union Pacific, explains how PTC works.]

The Federal Railroad Administration noted in a report on May 29 that all 41 railroads subject to the statutory mandate complied with the law by either fully implementing a PTC system by Dec. 31, 2018, or demonstrating they qualified for an “alternative schedule,” giving them up to two additional years to finish fully implementing the technology on all their required main lines.

To date, only four railroads have fully installed PTC, with 37 others “sufficiently demonstrated they met or exceeded the six statutory criteria” extending their compliance deadline to Dec. 31, 2020.

While the GAO noted that the FRA “continues to provide assistance and support to railroads on PTC interoperabilty and the testing process,” it emphasized that “workload challenges for the agency persist” that that FRA will continue to face a “substantial workload” through 2020 as it oversees PTC implementation and reviews documents, including lengthy safety plans required for railroads to obtain PTC system certification.

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