Progressive approach to PTC in Los Angeles

October 6, 2010

LOS ANGELES — A former Federal Railroad Administration chief safety officer, Jim Schultz, who later became a highly respected safety officer at CSX, is advising Los Angeles Metrolink as it moves to lead the rail industry in installing and implementing a positive train control system on Metrolink’s seven-route, 512-mile system serving the Southern California counties of Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernadino and Ventura.

Schultz, who was the FRA’s chief safety officer during the mid-1990s, won substantial praise at CSX during the late 1990s for his efforts — not entirely successful — to end the industry’s 19th century military legacy of top-down management engaging in employee harassment and intimidation to enforce safety rules and regulations.

In its place, Schultz, a former Air Force fighter pilot and Chicago & North Western operating officer, advocated peer intervention and coaching within a progressive corporate culture that recognizes employees do not intentionally violate safety rules and regulations.

Now semi-retired, Schultz is advising the Los Angeles Metrolink board of directors, which last week agreed to award a $120 million contract to Parsons Transportation Group to manage and integrate what the board calls “an aggressive implementation schedule” for PTC.

Recognizing the United Transportation Union’s perennial strong advocacy for positive train control, Schultz accompanied Metrolink CEO John Fenton to Washington, D.C., last week to brief UTU International President Mike Futhey and Alternate National Legislative Director John Risch on Metrolink’s PTC progress.

“Metrolink was the nation’s first rail operator to receive FRA approval for its PTC implementation plan,” Fenton said, and intends to be the “first railroad” to put it in operation. A federal mandate requires that freight and passenger railroads install PTC on designated lines by Dec. 31, 2015.

Positive train control, which has been on the National Transportation Safety Board’s “most wanted” list for more than a decade, is collision avoidance technology that monitors and controls train movements remotely, can prevent train-to-train collisions, prevent unauthorized train movement into a work zone, halt movement of a train through a switch left in the wrong position, and stop trains exceeding authorized speeds.

The Los Angeles Metrolink system, said Fenton, will consist of:

  • PTC on-board computers, display screens, GPS tracking, and radios on 57 cab-cars and 52 locomotives.
  • Stop-enforcement at 476 wayside signals.
  • Specialized communications to link wayside signals, trains and central dispatch.
  • A new central dispatch system.
  • Full interoperability with PTC eventually installed on freight railroads over whose track Metrolink operates — BNSF and Union Pacific.

While at CSX, Schultz said, “More than 150 years of ingrained tradition and culture must be changed” — replaced by “safety advocacy … We must create an open workplace where employees, their labor unions and management work as a team to take advantage of every opportunity to catch and push the company to a zero tolerance for safety breaches.”

Schultz was an early advocate of joint labor-management collaboration to draft improved safety standards, which is now embodied in the mission of the Rail Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC), through which all segments of the rail community work together to fashion mutually satisfactory solutions on safety regulatory issues.