PTC progress continues in fourth quarter 2019 report, but six passenger railroads labeled “at risk”

Feb. 28, 2020
Overall, commuter railroads have reached nearly 55 percent of the required total route miles now governed by PTC, while six of the eight railroads labeled “at risk” of noncompliance with the mandate carry passenger traffic.

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) released fourth quarter 2019 Positive Train Control (PTC) self-reported progress by U.S. railroads and, overall, PTC systems govern operations on 96.3 percent of all 58,000 PTC-mandated route miles.  

Railroads have until Dec. 31, 2020, to implement the complex safety overlay system. On the passenger rail front, PTC is governing operations on 99.8 percent of Amtrak’s required route miles and commuter railroads are at 54.7 percent, which is an increase from the 41.9 percent reported in Q3 2019. With 10 months before the deadline, FRA has labeled eight railroads as “at risk” of missing the statutory deadline. They include four commuter railroads, New Jersey Transit (NJ Transit), Metra, TEXRail and New Mexico Rail Runner Express; two railroads with passenger operations, Alaska Railroad and Florida East Coast Railway (including its tenant railroad, Brightline/Virgin Trains USA) and two freight railroads.

“The vast majority of railroads mandated to deploy and operate interoperable PTC systems have shown significant progress,” said FRA Administrator Ronald L. Batory. “I applaud freight and passenger railroads for their direct and sustained engagement with one another, vendors, suppliers and FRA. I strongly urge those railroads that haven’t yet commenced [revenue service demonstration], conducted interoperability testing or submitted PTC Safety Plans to intensify their efforts and take advantage of FRA’s technical assistance.”

FRA is measuring four elements of the eight “at risk” railroads including the percentage of route miles governed by PTC, unresolved technical issues, progress toward interoperability and PTC Safety Plan (PTCSP) submission. FRA has at least 180 days to review and respond to a submitted PTCSP and recommends railroads submit the safety plans by June 2020. NJ Transit, Florida East Coast Railway and New Mexico Rail Runner Express are expected to submit their PTCSPs by June 30, 2020. TEXRail is expected to submit on July 1, while Metra is expected to submit its PTCSP by May 9 and Alaska Railroad is expected to submit by March 31.

Of the eight at risk railroads only Metra and Alaska Railroad had a percentage of the required route miles under PTC operation. The information in FRA’s report is through Dec. 31, 2019. New Jersey Transit said on Feb. 18 that FRA had approved it to begin revenue service demonstration of its PTC system.

A key component of PTC’s implementation is ensuring interoperability between host-tenant railroads. Metra’s PTC system must be interoperable with 12 other railroads, which is the most required of any commuter railroads.

The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) notes the commuter rail industry is strongly focused and committed to completing full implementation by the December 2020 deadline.

“Safety is a fundamental operating principle and a promise to our riders. For APTA and commuter rail operators, safety is a core value,” said APTA President and CEO Paul P. Skoutelas. “Riding commuter rail is 18 times safer than driving an auto, and as an industry, we are committed to continuing to be a leader in rider safety by implementing positive train control and making commuter rail even safer.”

About the Author

Mischa Wanek-Libman | Editor in Chief

Mischa Wanek-Libman serves as editor in chief of Mass Transit magazine. She is responsible for developing and maintaining the magazine’s editorial direction and is based in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Wanek-Libman has spent more than 20 years covering transportation issues including construction projects and engineering challenges for various commuter railroads and transit agencies. She has been recognized for editorial excellence through her individual work, as well as for collaborative content. 

She is an active member of the American Public Transportation Association's Marketing and Communications Committee and serves as a Board Observer on the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC) Board of Directors.  

She is a graduate of Drake University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with a major in magazine journalism and a minor in business management.