POSITIVE TRAIN CONTROL
Positive Train Control (PTC)
systems are integrated command, control, communications, and information
systems used to control train movements with safety, security, precision, and
efficiency. These systems are designed to improve railroad safety by
significantly reducing the probability of collisions between trains, casualties
to roadway workers and damage to their equipment, and over-speed accidents.
Starting in 1990, the National
Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) named PTC as
one of its "most-wanted" initiatives for national transportation
safety. The Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (RSIA), which was hastily
pushed through Congress following the tragic collision of a Metrolink passenger train and a Union Pacific freight
train on September 12, 2008, in California, which resulted in the deaths of 25
and injuries to more than 135 Metrolink passengers, mandated that PTC be
installed. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) followed with a regulation
ordering that the technology be implemented by December 31, 2015, on a vast expanse of track used to transport passengers and
certain hazardous materials.
Some controversy exists as to
whether PTC makes sense in the form currently mandated by Congress. In
December 2008, the Rail Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC) accepted the task of
studying the situation and providing advice regarding the development of
implementing regulations for PTC systems and their deployment under RSIA. The working group
identified several thousand accidents that could have been prevented by PTC on U.S. railroads over a 12-year period; however, a cost analysis
determined that the accumulated savings to be realized from prevention of those
accidents was not sufficient to cover the cost of PTC
across the Class I railroads.
The railroads have concerns about
the cost of PTC implementation; however, the FRA cost benefit analysis
clearly shows it to be a benefit and estimates it will cost the railroads a
total of about $5.5 billion to install on 69,000 miles of track, including
components onboard 30,000 rail vehicles. Additionally, railroads will need to
spend about $820 million per year to maintain and refurbish the systems. The FY
2010 Budget allocated $50 million for positive train technology.
The FRA issued its final rule
governing PTC on January 12, 2010,
the result of more than a decade of work by the FRA, the BLET, and other
unions, as well as other stakeholders, carried out in partnership with RSAC.
The Final Rule, which can be viewed at www.ble-t.org/pr/pdf/PTCfinal-rule0110.pdf, set forth the boundaries for how freight and passenger
rail lines were to implement the technology and set forth the requirement for
railroads to submit their plans for implementation by April 16, 2010.
On February 8, 2011, Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) introduced legislation (S.
301) to reduce the number of miles over which PTC
must be implemented. Hutchison states that because traffic patterns for
shipping toxic materials are being revised, at least 10,000 route miles that
were used to move hazardous materials in 2008 are no longer expected to be used
for that purpose in 2015. This comes following a meeting in January 2011 in
which railroad CEOs met with Obama Administration officials to discuss how railroads
are concentrating movements of toxic inhalation hazard materials on fewer miles
of track and why the PTC mandate should be revised to address traffic patterns projected
for 2015 rather than those that existed when the rail safety act was enacted in
In a nutshell, PTC is an
excellent safety tool to keep our members safe and to reduce accidents and
equipment damage on the railroad. It
needs to be installed on mainline track whether it carries passengers or
hazardous materials. In the long run,
once installed, PTC will actually save the
carriers money because they will avoid future accidents and potential claims.