FRA allows reduction in PTC mileage

May 11, 2012

WASHINGTON – The Federal Railroad Administration has granted railroads greater flexibility to determine on which lines positive train control (PTC) must be installed by the federal deadline of Dec. 31, 2015.

PTC initially was mandated for 70,000 track miles, but 10,000 of those miles are expected to be removed from PTC installation under the new FRA rule.

PTC is a crash-avoidance safety overlay system long supported by the National Transportation Safety Board and rail labor organizations. It utilizes the satellite global positioning system (GPS), wireless communications and central control centers to monitor trains and prevent collisions by automatically applying the brakes on trains exceeding authorized speeds, about to run a red light, violate a work zone or run through a switch left in the wrong position.

While the additional flexibility is expected to save railroads “hundreds of millions of dollars,” according to FRA Administrator Joseph Szabo, the FRA’s new rule does not change the Dec. 31, 2015 deadline for PTC installation.

Installation of PTC – on all Class I track carrying at least five million gross tons of freight annually, as well as on lines where intercity passenger trains and commuter trains operate — was required by the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008.

The 10,000 miles represents track over which freight railroads say neither passengers nor dangerous hazmat will be transported by the PTC implementation date. Under the new rule, the total amount of main line track required to have PTC will be less than 40 percent of the total main line miles in the county.

The Association of American Railroads had previously filed a federal lawsuit seeking the 10,000-mile scale back of the PTC mandate.

Railroads contended that the original mandate for PTC installation was based on outdated hazmat traffic data, and that railroads will not be transporting those hazmat cargos over the 10,000 miles of track covered by the latest FRA rule.

The FRA said that under the new rule, “railroads will have an easier time using safety measures other than PTC where appropriate, such as on track that won’t carry passenger trains or certain types of hazardous materials.”