Four Railroads Agree on Positive Train Control Standards

Union Pacific Corp., Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp., Norfolk Southern Corp., and CSX Corp. have agreed to establish interoperability standards for Positive Train Control, which is a long-sought collision avoidance technology that can stop a train before an accident occurs. PTC is designed to keep a train within authorized limits on a track and under its maximum speed limit.

The Association of American Railroads announced the agreement Oct. 8-9 and recently defended the rail industry's safety commitment. "Your article 'Feds: Technology could have prevented train crash,' mistakenly left the impression that the freight rail industry has been slow or reluctant to implement positive train control technology. This is far from the truth," AAR President/CEO Ed Hamberger wrote in a Sept. 23 letter to the Modesto Bee. "The rail industry took the initiative to develop PTC and has invested millions of dollars in research and testing. There are more than 140,000 miles of rail track in the U.S., and passenger and freight trains share close to 25,000 of that same rail. For a nationwide PTC system to work, both freight and passenger trains must be equipped with collision avoidance systems that communicate with one another. That is not the case today. We look forward to working with the passenger rails and commuter agencies, as well as the Federal Railroad Administration, to implement a standardized anti-collision system. Enhancing the safety of both the freight and passenger rail systems in the United States with PTC is a goal we all share."

Rail safety has been a hot issue in California since the Chatsworth crash on Sept. 12 that killed a Metroliner engineer and 24 others.

"Our joint development of interoperable standards for a PTC system . . . is a significant hurdle that we have overcome and brings us much closer to a safe technology solution. Interoperability is one of our key challenges, since freight and passenger trains share tracks and must be able to exchange and use information in order for PTC to function appropriately," Dennis Duffy, Union Pacific's executive vice president-Operations, said Oct. 8. "We look forward to working with elected officials and regulators on another key challenge -– the need for additional radio spectrum -– so that we have sufficient communication, especially in metro areas such as Los Angeles and Chicago." CSX officially joined the other three railroads the following day.

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