Category Archives: Positive Train Control

FED REPORT: Many railroads making little progress on installing safety systems required by congress

Repost from the Recorder, Greenfield, MA
[Editor:  Important for Benicia as we consider permitting Valero Crude by Rail: “Progress varies considerably by railroad. For example, BNSF has equipped 4,309 of its 5,000 locomotives, but Union Pacific has equipped only 13 of its 5,656 locomotives.”  If permitted, Valero would be served by Union Pacific trains.  – RS]

Railroads show little progress on key safety technology

By Joan Lowy, Associated Press, Wednesday, August 17, 2016
In this Wednesday, May 13, 2015 photo, emergency personnel work at the scene of a derailment in Philadelphia of an Amtrak train headed to New York. Many commuter and freight railroads have made little progress installing safety technology designed to prevent deadly collisions and derailments despite a mandate from Congress, according to a government report released Wednesday. AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File

WASHINGTON — Many commuter and freight railroads have made little progress installing safety technology designed to prevent deadly collisions and derailments despite a mandate from Congress, according to a government report released Wednesday.

The technology, called positive train control or PTC, uses digital radio communications, GPS and signals alongside tracks to monitor train positions. It can automatically stop or slow trains to prevent them from disobeying signals, derailing due to excessive speed, colliding with another train or entering track that is off-limits.

The Federal Railroad Administration report shows that while some railroads have made substantial progress, others have yet to equip a single locomotive or track segment with the technology, or install a single radio tower.

Congress passed a law in 2008 giving railroads seven years to put the technology in place, and last year extended that deadline for three more years after railroads said they were unable to meet the first deadline. The law extending the deadline to Dec. 31, 2018, also allows the railroad administration to grant additional extensions for two more years to railroads that have installed PTC but are still testing the systems.

Railroads shouldn’t wait for the deadline to complete their work on PTC, said Sarah Feinberg, head of the railroad administration.

“Every day that passes without PTC, we risk adding another preventable accident to a list that is already too long,” she said in a statement.

So far, PTC is in operation on nine percent of freight route miles and 22 percent of passenger train miles, the report said.

Freight railroads have equipped 34 percent of their locomotives, installed 73 percent of their radio towers and completed 11 percent of their track segments. Passenger railroads have equipped 29 percent of their locomotives, installed 46 percent of their radio towers, and completed 12 percent of their track segments.

But progress varies considerably by railroad. For example, BNSF has equipped 4,309 of its 5,000 locomotives, but Union Pacific has equipped only 13 of its 5,656 locomotives.

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, which operates commuter trains in the Philadelphia region, has equipped all its locomotives, installed all its radio towers and completed all its track segments. But nearby New Jersey Transit Rail, which carries an average of 308,000 passengers on weekdays, hasn’t equipped any locomotives, installed any radio towers or completed any track segments.

The report also gave zeros in each of those categories to New York’s largest commuter railroads, the Metro-North and the Long Island railroads, which each carry about 300,000 passengers on weekdays. In 2013, a speeding Metro-North train derailed while going around a curve in the Bronx. Four people were killed and more than 60 injured. The National Transportation Safety Board said the accident could have been prevented if PTC had been in operation.

The report is based on information supplied by the railroads.

The report “is an overall summary that does not convey the progress we have achieved,” said Nancy Snyder, a spokeswoman for New Jersey Transit. She noted that the railroad has acquired spectrum rights, equipped four “prototype vehicles” for testing and installed five antennas in a demonstration area, among other actions.

Beth DeFalco, a spokeswoman for the Metro-North and Long Island railroads, said the railroads have done extensive work on PTC and hope to see benefits from the technology as soon as next year.

The NTSB has urged railroads to install positive train control or earlier train control technologies for more than four decades. The board says that over that time it has investigated at least 145 PTC-preventable accidents in which about 300 people were killed and 6,700 injured.

More recently, the board has said PTC could have prevented the head-on collision of two BNSF trains in June near Panhandle, Texas. Three railroad employees were killed in the crash. The technology also could have prevented the derailment of a speeding Amtrak train in Philadelphia last year. Eight people were killed and over 200 injured in the crash.

Commuter railroads have spent $950 million on PTC so far, but the total cost is estimated to be at least $3.48 billion, said Richard A. White, acting president of the American Public Transportation Association. The White House requested Congress provide $1.25 billion in the coming 2017 federal budget year to help commuter railroads with PTC; House and Senate spending bills allocate only $199 million.

“Despite this funding dilemma, the industry is moving forward with this top safety priority,” White said in a statement.

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Feds award $1.1M in Minnesota for “Positive Train Control” upgrade

Repost from the Minneapolis Star Tribune

Feds award $1.1M to Twin Cities & Western railroad for safety upgrade

New safety system would automatically stop trains and prevent collisions.
By Jim Spencer Star Tribune AUGUST 12, 2016 — 6:46PM

Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken and Reps. Betty McCollum and Keith Ellison announced the grant Friday.

The money will put in place and test a positive train control system, a technology that stops trains automatically to avoid crashes.

The controls are supposed to go on mainline routes that carry hazardous materials or commuters. They use sensors to remotely monitor speed and movement in order to head off train-to-train collisions and derailments.

By federal law, American railroads have until December 2018 to install the safety system on roughly 70,000 miles of track.

Klobuchar, Franken, McCollum and Ellison have been active in rail safety promotion because of the potential risks of derailments or crashes involving trains carrying crude oil from North Dakota across Minnesota.

Some of those shipments go through the heart of the Twin Cities. Oil train traffic has increased markedly in recent years along with the North Dakota oil boom.

“With increased freight train traffic on our rail lines, ensuring the safety of communities along rail routes remains a top priority,” Klobuchar said in a statement.

Franken said in a statement that he has talked to “many community leaders who share my concern for the safety of railcars that travel through our Minnesota communities, and I’m glad that the Transportation Department is listening.”

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Rail industry opposes 2-member train crews

Repost from CTV News | Associated Press

Industry opposes proposal for 2-member train crews in light of Lac-Megantic disaster

Joan Lowy, The Associated Press , March 14, 2016 3:51PM EDT
Lac-Megantic oil train disaster
Wrecked oil tankers and debris from a runaway train in Lac-Megantic, Que. are pictured July 8, 2013. (Sûreté du Québec handout via CP)

WASHINGTON — Trains would have to have a minimum of two crew members under rules proposed Monday by U.S. regulators. The move is partly in response to a deadly 2013 crash in which an unattended oil train caught fire and destroyed much of a town in Canada, killing 47 people.

The Federal Railroad Administration is also considering allowing railroads that operate with only one engineer to apply for an exception to the proposed two-person crew rule, according to a notice published in the Federal Regulator.

The proposal is opposed by the Association of American Railroads, which represents major freight railroads. Many railroads currently use two-person crews, but some industry officials have indicated they may switch to one engineer per train once technology designed to prevent many types of accidents caused by human error becomes operational.

Most railroads expect to start using the technology, called positive train control or PTC, between 2018 and 2020. It relies on GPS, wireless radio and computers to monitor train positions and automatically slow or stop trains that are in danger of colliding or derailing.

A 2008 law requires PTC technology on all tracks used by passenger trains or trains that haul liquids that turn into toxic gas when exposed to air by Dec. 31, 2015. After it became clear most railroads wouldn’t make that deadline, Congress passed a bill last fall giving railroads another three to five years to complete the task.

There is “simply no safety case” for requiring two-person crews, Edward Hamberger, president of the railroad association, said in a statement. Single-person crews are widely and safely used in Europe and other parts of the world, he said.

There will be even less need for two-person crews after PTC is operational, he said. PTC “is exactly the kind of safety redundancy through technology for which the (railroad administration) has long advocated,” he said.

But Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, said two-person crews are needed on trains in the same way it’s necessary to have two-pilot crews on planes.

“The cost of adding a second, skilled crewmember pales in comparison to the costs of avoidable crashes and collisions,” Blumenthal said. It’s important that the railroad administration impose what safety regulations they can now since railroads “have dragged their feet” on implementing PTC, he said.

On July 6, 2013, a 74-car freight train hauling crude oil from the Bakken region of North Dakota that had been left unattended came loose and rolled downhill into Lac-Megantic, a Quebec town not far from the U.S. border. The resulting explosions and fire killed 47 people and razed much the downtown area. The train had one engineer, who had gone to a hotel for the night.

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