Positive train control (PTC) is modern technology to reduce train accidents, save lives and limbs, improve on-time performance and produce revenue-enhancing business benefits for railroads.

PTC 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.

For two decades, the National Transportation Safety Board has had PTC installation at the top of its public-safety objectives. The UTU worked with labor-friendly lawmakers to include a mandate for PTC installation in the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, with a 2015 implementation deadline.

However, the Association of American Railroads, which represents the freight railroad industry – and which 30 years ago was an aggressive proponent of an earlier version of PTC, called Advanced Train Control Systems – is lobbying Congress for a multi-year delay in widespread PTC installation, while offering other options for safety improvements instead of PTC.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington says lawmakers supporting the lengthy delay – including House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) and House Rail Transportation Subcommittee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) – are among the biggest recipients of freight-railroad campaign contributions.

Some commuter railroads and Amtrak view matters quite differently – especially Los Angeles Metrolink, where 25 people died and 135 were injured in a 2008 head-on train accident at Chatsworth, Calif., that safety experts say could have been prevented had PTC been in place.

Amtrak (on track it owns), Metrolink, Chicago Metra and Southeast Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) — in conjunction with owners of track over which they operate — are among commuter systems striving to have PTC operational as early as 2013. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said BNSF will meet the current 2015 implementation date.

Sadly, according to news reports, 24 other commuter railroads and the American Public Transportation Association place a higher priority on spending for gussied up passenger stations, platforms and even new office buildings for executives, and are supporting the delay in PTC implementation.

Los Angeles Metrolink President John Fenton, who adamantly places safety first, told Congress, “We don’t think there is any time to waste given the unforgiving nature of the environment in which we operate.” In bitter memory of the Chatsworth disaster, Fenton and Metrolink employees wear green wrist bands with the words, “Never Again.”

Metrolink is leading the fight against any delay in widespread PTC implementation, explaining that PTC installation costs would be far lower were PTC architecture and components purchased in greater quantity, which would create vendor competition, introduce standardization and spread overhead costs among all railroads.

“PTC can be the technological edge that helps Metrolink achieve the safest operations possible,” says Fenton. “We believe PTC is perhaps the most important safety innovation in our lifetime.”

UTU National Legislative Director James Stem and Alternate National Legislative Director John Risch have been delivering a single message to Congress: “Implementation of PTC is a small price to pay for saving lives and limbs. We need this modern technology safety overlay to protect passengers, the public and train crews.”

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration suggests scaling back by 10,000 miles a federal mandate that positive train control (PTC) be installed on some 140,000 miles of freight and passenger track no later than Dec. 31, 2015.

The 10,000 miles represents track over which freight railroads say neither passengers nor dangerous hazmat will be transported in 2015.

PTC is a crash-avoidance safety overlay system long supported by the National Transportation Safety Board and rail labor organizations. Installation of PTC was required by the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, with the FRA subsequently setting the 140,000-mile mandate, which was said to encompass all track over which passengers and the most dangerous hazmat cargo travel.

Bloomberg business news writer Angela Greiling Keane reports that the proposed 10,000-mile scale-back of PTC is part of a White House initiative to repeal or modify regulations at 30 federal agencies said to pose a significant compliance costs to American business.

The Association of American Railroads had previously filed a federal lawsuit seeking the 10,000-mile scale back of the PTC mandate; and rail CEOs earlier this year visited the White House to plead for administration support.

Railroads contend that the 140,000-mile FRA mandate for PTC installation is based on outdated hazmat traffic data, and that railroads will not be transporting those hazmat cargos over the 10,000 miles sought to be removed from the mandate. The Association of American Railroads says the removal of those 10,000 miles from the mandate will save the industry some $500 million in installation costs.

There is currently no provision to liberalize the timetable for installation of PTC over the remaining 130,000 miles of track.

WASHINGTON — Two commuter railroads — Los Angeles Metrolink and Chicago Metra – get it. They recognize that commuters aren’t hogs and logs on freight trains, and passenger and crew safety is paramount.

Unfortunately, 24 other commuter railroads don’t get it.

Under the umbrella of the American Public Transit Association (APTA), those other commuter railroads are pleading with Congress to delay for three years implementation of the life- and limb-saving technology offered by positive train control (PTC).

Instead, those other 24 commuter railroads are looking to spend the money on gussied up passenger stations, platforms and even new office buildings for executives.

Indeed, at a hearing of the House Rail Subcommittee March 17, APTA, in emphasizing everything except passenger and train-crew safety, asked that the deadline for implementation of PTC on commuter rail routes be delayed for three years — from Dec. 31, 2015, to Dec. 31, 2018.

By contrast, Los Angeles Metrolink and Chicago Metra are putting the highest priority on passenger and crew safety by moving forward to meet the 2015 deadline — established by the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 — for installation of PTC.

Los Angeles Metrolink and Chicago Metra are the only two commuter railroads opposing the three-year delay sought by the other 24 in the PTC implementation date.

At Los Angeles Metrolink — a 512-mile system that is the second largest commuter railroad in size and fifth largest in ridership — the recently installed CEO, John Fenton, has made a commitment to put passenger safety first.

Metrolink has taken the lead in selecting vendors, setting equipment standards and implementing new training programs in preparation for meeting the 2015 PTC mandate.

“We are fully dedicated to meet or beat the PTC implementation deadline of 2015,” Fenton said in testimony submitted to the subcommittee. “We don’t think there is any time to waste given the unforgiving nature of the environment within which we operate.”

Fenton and Metrolink employees know this first hand.

Each wears a green wrist band with the words, “Never Again,” reminding them of the horrific accident in Chatsworth, Calif., Sept. 12, 2008, between a Union Pacific freight train and a Metrolink commuter train that killed 25 and injured 135. “We still walk in the shadow of that pain in mourning for all those touched by the tragedy,” Fenton said.

“A firm sense of resolve is clear,” he said. “PTC can be the technological edge that helps Metrolink achieve the safest operations possible when combined with a culture of positive safety, management leadership by example, sound operating rules and practices, a collaborate approach to stakeholder involvement and our crash-energy-management car fleet.”

While the other 24 commuter railroads complain of the cost of PTC and assert there is “no off-the-shelf technology” readily available, Los Angeles Metrolink has been at work to make PTC happen and to meet the 2015 installation deadline.

Within two months of passage of the 2008 congressional mandate for PTC installation, Metrolink assembled a PTC development team, which defined the scope, schedule and budget to create a glide path for PTC implementation by 2015. A vendor contract was awarded in October 2010.

If Los Angeles Metrolink and Chicago Metra have any complaints, it is with the other 24 commuter railroads fighting the 2015 installation mandate. By so doing, say safety experts, those 24 are reducing incentives for vendor research and development, limiting competition among vendors, and thereby further driving up the costs of implementation of which they already complain.

“We believe that PTC is perhaps the most important safety innovation in our lifetime,” Fenton said. “Our families, co-workers, friends and neighbors ride our trains every day. Their safety is our responsibility. It is our core value. PTC is too important in our mission of zero safety incidents.”

Also providing testimony was rail labor, supporting maintenance of the 2015 implementation date for PTC — for commuter railroads as well as freight railroads.

Emphasizing that many deaths — passenger and crew — could have been saved and will be saved by PTC, the rail labor organizations told the subcommittee, “There is no such thing as federal regulatory overreach when it comes to returning our members safely to their families.”

Said UTU National Legislative Director James Stem: “Implementation of PTC is a small price to pay for saving lives and limbs. PTC, long advocated by the National Transportation Safety Board, will become an integral part of the safety overlay protecting passengers, the public and train crews.”

PTC is collision avoidance technology that monitors and controls train movements remotely. It 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.

To view an animated depiction of how PTC works as a safety overlay system to improve railroad safety, click here.

WASHINGTON — The senior Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, introduced legislation Feb. 8 to reduce the rail route miles over which positive train control (PTC) must be implemented before January 2016.

Senate co-sponsors include John Thune (R-S.D.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.).

The Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 mandated PTC be installed, and the Federal Railroad Administration followed with a regulation ordering PTC to be installed on some 73,000 miles of track — those carrying passengers and freight cars containing toxic inhalation hazard chemicals — by Dec. 31, 2015.

PTC is a collision-avoidance overlay system for locomotives, using global positioning satellites and computer software.

In a Jan. 8 press release, Hutchison said her legislation is not intended to roll back the congressional mandate, but rather reduce the number of track miles on which PTC must be installed.

“Traffic patterns for shipping toxic chemicals are changing,” Hutchison said. “This means that at least 10,000 route miles used to move chemicals in 2008 are no longer expected to transport these products in 2015.”

The proposed legislation follows a visit by railroad CEOs in late January to officials of the Obama administration, in which they reportedly said they are in the process of concentrating toxic inhalation hazards on fewer miles of track, and that the PTC mandate should affect traffic patterns expected in 2015 rather than traffic patterns in 2008.

Hutchison called the FRA’s PTC mandate “an example of regulatory excess that is costing America’s businesses billions of dollars with no obvious benefits. We must rein in the regulatory bureaucracy in order to unleash innovation and investment and spur job growth,” Hutchison said. “This commonsense bill would reduce compliance costs without impacting the safety or security of our country’s rail lines.

“By requiring the use of the 2015 traffic patterns, this bill will do much to address the mistakes made by the FRA in implementing this mandate,” Hutchison said.

On the same day (Jan. 20) Union Pacific reported record fourth quarter and record calendar year 2010 profits, UP Chairman Jim Young said he is headed to Washington to meet with President Obama’s economic advisers to oppose a congressional mandate that railroads implement crash-avoidance positive train control by year-end 2015.

UP told investors its 2010 fourth quarter earnings had soared by 31 percent from the same quarter in 2009, and that its calendar year 2010 profit rose by 47 percent to a record $2.8 billion.

Twice during 2010, Union Pacific raised its common stock dividend, raising the dividend by 40 percent in 2010. Since 2001, the Union Pacific common stock dividend rate has been raised by 280 percent, for an average of 28 percent annually.

Young called 2010 the “most profitable year in Union Pacific’s nearly 150-year history.

“Economic indicators point to growth [in 2011], and if jobs improve, there will be even greater strength,” said Young, according to progressiverailroading.com. “The bar is raised, and last year the floor was set. We’re setting our sights even higher.”

UP repeated a previous announcement that it will increase its workforce by more than 4,000 in 2011 — an increase of almost 10 percent in its workforce — while bringing back the remainder of furloughed workers.

As for the Washington trip, in which Young said he will be joined by executives from other railroads, the Journal of Commerce reported that Young “strongly complained about the heavy expense of developing and deploying positive train control technology, which means outfitting locomotives with automated braking gear and tying it into trackside warning devices and other remote control systems.”

The railroads’ opposition to PTC — that its costs outweigh benefits — is disputed by independent studies, some commissioned by the Federal Railroad Administration.

The National Transportation Safety Board has long advocated implementation of PTC as a necessary safety overlay. The UTU and other rail labor organizations similarly support implementation of PTC.

Los Angeles Metrolink — a 512-mile commuter rail system, which serves the Southern California counties of Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernadino and Ventura — is moving to be the first railroad to install and implement a positive train control (PTC) system.

PTC 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.

Congress has mandated that freight and passenger railroads install PTC on designated lines by Dec. 31, 2015.

To view an animated depiction of how PTC works as a safety overlay system to improve railroad safety, click here.

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.

As the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) works toward having effective safety regulations in place for the operation of positive train control prior to its 2015 congressionally mandated implementation, the agency is reaching out for feedback to its early proposals. In fact, many PTC operations likely will commence prior to 2015 mandatory date.

In response to specific questions asked by the FRA at a recent public hearing, the UTU and five other rail labor organizations jointly responded with regard to permissible use of certain locomotives, required enforcement of PTC’s ability to correct train overspeed, permissible use of non-PTC equipped or functional trains on PTC-required track, and use of unequipped trains and failed PTC trains.

  • The location of PTC-equipped locomotives in the engine consist: The FRA asked how a railroad is to handle a situation where an engine that is PTC-equipped is positioned with long hood forward or has a broken air conditioning unit. 

Responsible operating personnel recognize that operating a North American cab locomotive in the long hood forward position is patently unsafe and should only be permitted for short distances and then only in emergency situations, said the labor organizations.

Operating trains with the long hood forward presents safety concerns because the engineer has a limited view of the railroad with that configuration. 

WASHINGTON — Any federal funds flowing to freight railroads as part of a stimulus package, or investment tax credit or loans should be accompanied by a requirement that the railroads not use the money for technology that eliminates jobs.

That was the principal message Jan. 28 of the UTU to the House Rail Subcommittee, which sought public comment on the current state and future of the rail industry.

With the Obama administration and Congress committed to putting Americans back to work and keeping them on the job, any actions by railroads to use public dollars for elimination of jobs would be in violation of public policy, said the UTU. 

UTU National Legislative Director James Stem testified that the slumping economy already is responsible for the furlough of some 12 percent of train, engine and yard employees, and more job cuts are expected.

“We hope that the requirements of receiving any federal funds will neither promote nor allow a race to the bottom on wages or elimination of existing jobs,” Stem said. 

He said that “at least one railroad is planning to pay for the implementation of the positive train control (PTC) system required by Congress by attempting to operate their trains with only one employee on the train, and using federal funds to accomplish the goal.”

Public safety is another reason why single crew-member operation of trains with PTC is not feasible, Stem said.

“The responsibilities of the railroad to operate safely over public rail-highway grade crossings, to inspect the moving train at every opportunity, to open public crossings quickly when blocked by a stopped train, and to interact with emergency responders are issues that are not addressed by any PTC system, and such systems were never designed to do so,” he said.

Two crew persons are required to make simple repairs and to interact with local emergency responders following a derailment, a grade-crossing collision, or a trespasser injury or fatality. Over a recent five-year period, said Stem, more than 22,500 grade-crossing accidents, trespasser fatalities and suicides on train tracks occurred in the U.S.

“The use of federal funds to install a PTC system, while attempting to experiment with single person operation, would disregard the safety of other railroad crews, the communities that are served, and the customers’ well being,” Stem said.

“We strongly encourage Congress to clearly specify how any federal funds could be used by railroads, and to prohibit the use of any federal funds — whether tax credits, grants or loans — in a way that would eliminate jobs.”

The UTU also recommended that Congress allow for the issuance of one federal credential for entry into security controlled sites, rather than requiring rail workers to carry multiple identify cards that include their locomotive and/or conductor certification. A single card displaying all credentials would “simplify the process for railroads and their employees,” Stem said, “and use fewer federal resources.”

Additionally, the UTU observed that the National Transportation Safety Board has diluted the functions of its rail division, with the result that fewer investigations are launched into the cause of rail employee fatalities. Stem urged subcommittee members to work with rail labor and the Obama administration to restore NTSB’s focus on rail accident investigation, which is an important step toward improved rail safety.


Click here to read the entire UTU congressional testimony.