Even though the NAJPTC pilot project in Illinois was terminated, FRA continues to support research efforts for the implementation of moving blocks and integration of train control functions with onboard train operation assist systems such as the New York Airbrake’s LEADER System and GE Transportation Trip Optimizer. The development of vital PTC at TTCI, as a cooperative effort between FRA and the Railroad Research Foundation (RRF), will incorporate these features. The project started in January 2007 and is scheduled to be completed in three years.
In order to improve the efficiency of PTC-equipped trains, the development of a more accurate braking algorithm is required. The braking algorithms incorporated in current PTC systems are overly conservative; trains are often stopped well short of the targets. TTCI has been contracted by FRA to develop an adaptive braking algorithm with the help of the Train Operation and Energy Simulator, a computerized train simulation program. The newly developed algorithm will adjust critical parameters for braking distance calculation. This research is scheduled for completion by the third quarter of 2008.
FRA has been actively working with the railroad industry, through the AAR Wireless Communication Committee (WCC), to address problems of insufficient throughput of the communication link that support PTC systems and other digital communication-based applications, as well as issues of transition to the narrow-band VHF radios. A joint FRA and AAR project called Higher Performance Digital Radio (HPDR) focuses on the development of a radio that can integrate the voice and digital data, and provide the necessary throughput to support all foreseeable onboard communication needs. In conjunction with that, the AAR WCC, in cooperation with FRA, supports the University of Nebraska’s development efforts to integrate Wi-Fi and WiMax broadband wireless coverage to support railroad applications. Currently, railroads and the University of Nebraska are working to resolve interoperability issues associated with the data transmission.
FRA has also funded several projects to support the development of the interoperability standard and an associated system that would comply with this standard. FRA has sponsored RRF to develop an interoperable communication-based signaling system based on the proposed American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association and AAR industry standards. The testing of such a system is to be completed by the end of 2008. FRA is also working with RRF on exploring the possibility of having one universal platform onboard the locomotive that would perform the functions of various PTC systems. This work is the extension of earlier work called “Eastern Platform,” a standard developed by Conrail/NS/CSXT and funded by FRA. Proposals for full-scale implementation of the Universal Onboard Platform and the HPDR have been solicited from the industry.
To provide more robust roadway worker protection, TTCI, with FRA funding, has developed a design for a portable employee in charge (EIC) terminal. The EIC can use this terminal to digitally communicate with an onboard PTC system and control train movements through a roadway work zone in a vital fashion. Additional cooperative effort is required in testing this terminal with a PTC system under revenue service.
In order to assist developers of PTC systems in performing a risk assessment for a newly developed system, FRA has funded two projects: “Generalized Train Movement Modeling” by DecisionTek, LLC and “A Practical Risk Assessment Methodology for Safety-Critical Systems” by Union Switch & Signal Inc. These efforts show promise and are currently classified as research efforts. Their use for regulatory evaluation has yet to be determined.
The economics of PTC implementation have been a matter of significant debate between railroad management, railroad labor, FRA and others. Various assessments performed by individual railroads during the early stages of PTC implementation have indicated that safety benefits are a very small portion of the total benefits they expect to realize. In order to derive more precise estimates, FRA commissioned a study in 2006 on PTC costs and benefits. This congressional study assessed the probable costs associated with an enhanced PTC system that could support additional railroad business capabilities beyond the basic PTC functionality of positive train separation, speed enforcement and protection of roadway workers. The results of the study confirmed that at present, safety benefits were less than 1 percent of total benefits.