Denham offers update on Positive Trail Control application
“Our hearing today will focus on the implementation of Positive Train Control in the United States, one of the most complex and costly safety mandates ever undertaken by the railroad industry,” Denham said. “Positive Train Control, or PTC, is a radio- or GPS-based system designed to automatically control trains to follow speed limits and avoid train-to-train collisions.
“Following a deadly commuter train crash in Southern California, Congress mandated the installation of PTC on lines where certain hazardous materials are carried and any line on which passenger or commuter rail services operate,” Denham said. “The recent tragic Amtrak crash in Philadelphia has reminded us that while these accidents are rare, they can happen, and PTC will make our rail network safer.
“This mandate was included in the Rail Safety and Improvement Act of 2008, and Congress set an implementation deadline of Dec.31, 2015," Denham said. “From the beginning, the PTC mandate was going to be a daunting undertaking. Consider that when completely implemented, PTC will require 38,000 wayside interfaces, 18,000 locomotives to be upgraded, and 12,000 signals will need to be replaced.
“While similar systems exist in Europe, and on some portions of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, PTC has never been implemented on such a scale, and has never required such a high level of interoperability,” Denham said. “Since the 2008 mandate was enacted, freight, passenger and commuter railroads have spent the last seven years working to implement PTC. According to the Association of American Railroads, freight railroads have spent $5.7 billion to date on PTC, and expect to spend a total of $9 billion for full deployment. The American Public Transportation Association has estimated that the commuter and passenger railroads will have to spend nearly $3.5 billion on PTC.
“In addition, the sheer cost and complexities of the system, there have been unexpected delays,” Denham said. “The process of approving PTC poles along railroad right-of-way was delayed significantly when the Federal Communications Commission mandated that each pole go through an extensive review process. The FCC eventually created a more streamlined process for those approvals, and we will hear from them today about how it is working. Commuter and passenger railroads have also struggled to buy the necessary radio spectrum for PTC, especially in our dense metropolitan areas.”