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Press Release -- December 17th, 2013
Source: Verizon

The Complexities of Positive Train Control in the Rail Industry

As part of the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) in the U.S. mandated that certain critical rail lines were required to implement a system of functional requirements for monitoring and controlling train movements to provide increased safety by 2015. Known as Positive Train Control or PTC, the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association (AREMA) cites the following characteristics for PTC:

  • Train separation or collision avoidance
  • Line speed enforcement
  • Temporary speed restrictions
  • Rail worker wayside safety

I caught up with Brett Conner, enterprise data solutions manager for the transportation industry at Verizon, for his thoughts on Positive Train Control requirements and the barriers to implementation that currently exist.

“We’ve been helping railroads modernize their safety systems to comply with federal requirements for more than a decade, and can tell you that there is a strong culture of safety that has been hard wired into this industry that spans before Positive Train Control even existed,” said Conner. “Railroads have put a lot of rigor on identifying a wide range of safety events that could negatively impact their employees and potentially increase risk for the general public such as installing processes for preventing heat stroke and dehydration, rolling out guidelines to prevent employees from walking and talking while using a mobile device and implementing specific procedures for operating heavy equipment.”

Conner attributes the rail industry’s progress in improving safety measures to advances in technology, but notes that significant barriers still exist to fully realizing Positive Train Control requirements by 2015.

“Despite its deep culture of safety and gains in technological advances, railroads are an incredibly complex system. For example, it can take up to 200 man hours to install equipment such as new electronics and radios in just one locomotive in order to fully optimize communication with that locomotive’s operation center. Today, most Class 1 railroads operate thousands of locomotives over thousands of miles of track, which makes the time needed to install new communications systems and electronics increase exponentially,” Conner continued.

Conner says that installing PTC systems on locomotives are only the tip of the iceberg.

“Additionally, advanced communication technology needs to be fitted on the rail beds themselves which means either restricting or stopping train traffic altogether. It’s easy to say that ‘all the industry needs to do is install more sensors,’ and while the industry has hired thousands of additional employees and made huge investments in purchasing additional spectrum to enhance communications, PTC is a self-funded project estimated to cost the rail industry $10 billion – making it even more complex.”

For more information on Verizon’s solutions for the transportation industry, click here.

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