2015 Positive Train Control Implementation 'Impossible'

The head of the Association of American Railroads told the NTSB that freight railroads are less than one-third finished with the installation of necessary equipment for the 60,000 route miles where PTC is required by that date.

Major freight railroads in the United States are making progress but will not be able to meet the congressionally mandated 2015 deadline to install fully interoperable positive train control for more than 60,000 route miles, Association of American Railroads President and CEO Edward R. Hamberger told the National Transportation Safety Board this week.

"Freight railroads are determined to safely implement PTC and have been putting vast resources and energy behind efforts to do so," he said, "but the fact is, it’s simply impossible to safely install a reliable, fully interoperable PTC system everywhere it is required by the 2015 deadline. There may be segments of track across the country that will be PTC operable by the 2015 deadline, but completely implementing PTC on the more than 60,000 route miles required by the mandate is still not possible by 2015."

According to AAR, freight railroads have spent more than $2.7 billion on implementation since 2008, "including the design, development and testing of completely new communications technology, on-board computers, radios, and back-office train dispatching software that allows each railroad’s PTC system to work together safely." Its news release said as of the end of 2012, member railroads have:

  • partially equipped 6,072 locomotives with PTC onboard equipment out of a total 18,100 locomotives involved in full implementation
  • equipped 8,504 wayside locations with PTC wayside interface units out of 37,512 needed
  • acquired 2,775 220MHz base, wayside, and locomotive radios out of the 56,035 that will be needed

He said railroads are working to map more than 475,000 critical features of the rail system into a computerized track database and also must conduct specialized PTC-related training for almost three-quarters of all employees in the railroad industry workforce once the technology is deployed in their service territory. "Doing what is right and safe must steer this process, not a subjective deadline. We are up against significant hurdles every day, and they must be overcome before PTC is launched across every major railroad's network," he said. "This is one of the most significant technological undertakings in transportation history. Safely implementing interoperable PTC cannot be rushed -- we must get it right to ensure rail continues to be the safest way to move both people and goods."

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