SEPTA Planning to Meet Positive Train Control Deadline

The Philadelphia-area transit agency has been posting regular updates on its progress toward meeting the Dec. 31, 2015, deadline for many freight lines and all intercity and commuter rail systems to install the safety systems.

SEPTA, the Philadelphia-area transit agency, reported recently that it will meet the Dec. 31, 2015, deadline for many freight lines and all intercity and commuter rail systems to install Positive Train Control systems. The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, which serves Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia counties, has been working for seven years to build and install PTC across its network, and its detailed update shows the status of its progress.

SEPTA plans to post monthly updates through the end of this year and into 2016. The deadline was set by the U.S Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008; the Federal Railroad Administration will determine whether rail and transit systems have fully complied.

SEPTA's update says a compliant system can:

  • Regulate train separation
  • Avoid train-to-train collisions at track crossover locations
  • Enforce line speed continuously, including temporary speed restrictions
  • Protect rail worker wayside safety zones
  • Regulate grade crossings that are out of service
  • Prevent a train from running over a mainline switch set in the wrong position

"PTC is critically important to us because of the level of service we provide -- 740 weekday trips operated by our 13 Regional Rail Lines; the hybrid nature of the right of way we operate on -- some we control and share with independent freight carriers and some we share, by agreement with Amtrak; and the technological ability we now have to run our trains on all tracks, in all directions at any time," the update states. "All these make for a sophisticated and complex operation so every resource we can employ and every tool we can provide our train personnel enhances the safe operation of our system and the safety of our customers, crews, and equipment.

"PTC is a very ambitious program and there are relatively few systems across the nation, among them Amtrak and SEPTA, poised to meet the December 31st deadline. We know it's going to come down to the wire for us, but with a capital investment of $328 million and years of continuous intense work to upgrade signals, communication systems, vehicles, and installation of new systems for our Operations Control Center, we are working hard to meet the deadline."

The agency said SEPTA has completed this work as of June 2015:

  • Wayside signal systems installation - substantially complete
  • Communications systems installation - substantially complete
  • Control Center systems installation - 80% complete
  • On Board Vehicle/Locomotive system installations - 41% complete
  • Frazer Yard Test Track Proof of Concept - 100% complete

SEPTA reported that installing on-board vehicle/locomotive systems "is one of the biggest tasks still to complete for our PTC system and the work with the most direct impact on customers. For these very reasons you might wonder why this work wasn't done sooner. This is not off-the-shelf life safety equipment so developing design and engineering specifications for each of the different cars and locomotives in our fleet, developing the bid specifications, and procuring the materials was a lengthy and complex process for our contractor. We are now working to modify and test each vehicle starting with our Silverliner IV fleet. Currently some 10 or more of these cars are out of revenue service, at a given time, to complete the retrofit work. Integrating new, computer based PTC equipment into our 40 year old fleet of Silverliner IV cars has been particularly challenging and often requires additional testing and troubleshooting. We anticipate fewer issues completing the retrofit work on the Silverliner V cars because integrating a computer based safety system into a vehicle designed on a computer based platform will make installation and testing more straightforward.

"We're doing everything possible to minimize the inconvenience of the daily car shortages by trying to have only one less car on a train and not on consecutive days but there are times when this will happen. In a perfect scenario PTC would be the only work being done but we are also mandated by law to continue both regular and special car inspections, and the first blasts of summer heat have heightened the current car crunch because of unexpected equipment repairs. With ridership at record breaking levels, taking even one car out of the revenue fleet can impact customers and service. We know that you've noticed and are annoyed by the shortages and crowding but we ask you to please bear with us while we complete this life-saving safety improvement work."

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