The report concluded that, while the railroads would receive some benefits from PTC due to improved railroad operational and safety efficiencies, in a highly competitive market place the majority of the benefits would accrue primarily to the shippers and general public. From the estimated total net societal benefits ranging from a low of $3.3 billion per year to a high of $7.1 billion per year, it was estimated that railroads would only receive between 2.33 percent and 11.76 percent of these benefits. It should be noted, however, that the railroads’ ability to recover costs through higher rates has improved in the past several years, so that the report’s estimates regarding allocation of societal benefits may already be somewhat dated.
There is universal agreement that the cost of implementation and deployment of PTC is significant and that the safety benefits, while important, are small in relation to the costs. Implementation costs by the railroads for just 100,000 miles of track would likely require upfront capital outlays by the railroads in excess of $2.3 billion.
It is unthinkable that PTC would be applied to freight railroads while leaving passenger trains unequipped. The inevitable implication of a PTC mandate for major railroads is that passenger service providers will need to budget for this expense.
Although regulatory support of PTC technology is in place, and a significant advancement and evolution of the technology itself has occurred, technical and financial challenges still remain, which could limit widespread deployment of interoperable PTC systems on U.S. railroads. Despite these outstanding issues, FRA believes that PTC systems are closer to being ready for deployment than ever before.
Grady C. Cothen, Jr. is the deputy associate administrator for Safety Standards in FRA’s Office of Safety. Olga K. Cataldi is a senior electronics engineer on the staff of the associate administrator for Safety. Mark W. Hartong is a senior electronics engineer on the staff of the associate administrator for Safety. Yan H. Tse is the program manager for Advanced Train Control Systems in FRA’s Office of Research and Development.