FRA publishes quarterly PTC status update

RT&S – The Department of Transportation's (USDOT) Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) released a status update today on railroads' progress implementing positive train control (PTC) systems in the fourth quarter of 2016.

The status update, based on railroad-submitted quarterly data, shows freight railroads continue to make consistent progress while passenger industry progress in installing and activating the life-saving technology only slightly increased.

The latest data, current as of December 31, 2016, confirms freight railroads now have PTC active on just 16 percent of tracks required to be equipped with PTC systems—up from 12 percent last quarter. Passenger railroads made less progress—with a slight increase to 24 percent from 23 percent.

FRA says that due in large part to Amtrak's significant progress on PTC, 41 percent of passenger railroads' locomotives are now fully equipped with PTC technology, compared to 29 percent the previous quarter. Freight railroads' percentage of locomotives fully equipped with PTC technology rose to 42 percent, up from 38 percent.

"We continue to closely monitor railroads' progress implementing Positive Train Control," said Patrick Warren, FRA executive director. "With less than two years remaining to complete the implementation process, it is imperative that railroads continue to meet implementation milestones."

Congress requires Class 1 railroads and entities providing regularly scheduled intercity or commuter rail passenger transportation to implement PTC systems by December 31, 2018. Only if some key implementation and installation milestones are met may railroads be eligible to obtain a limited extension to complete certain non-hardware, operational aspects of PTC system implementation no later than December 31, 2020, subject to the Secretary of Transportation's approval.

Union Pacific released its own quarterly report on its progress implementing PTC and noted it closed the fourth quarter of 2016 with two milestones: More than a quarter (26 percent) of track segments are PTC-ready and training efforts continue with more than 7,000 employees (18 percent) educated on PTC operations.

Union Pacific also pointed out that there are nuances to the FRA data. For example, while FRA only notes that two percent of UP locomotives are PTC equipped, the railroad says 64 percent are fully PTC equipped with the exception of a single component, the PTC-compatible, crash-hardened memory (aka, black box). The black box installation has been held up by a supplier-related issue and UP expects to make significant locomotive installation progress in 2017 once it is resolved.