POSITIVE TRAIN CONTROL IMPLEMENTATION PAVES WAY FOR THE FUTURE

The Federal Railroad Administration recently announced that nearly 90 percent of rail agencies tasked with installing critical safety technology by December 2020 will likely meet the mandated and long-awaited deadline. The administration cautioned, however, that “significant work” still is needed to ensure that the technology is properly tested and commissioned before it’s rolled out. 

Positive Train Control, or PTC, is a GPS-based technology that helps stop or slow trains before they crash or derail. Following a deadly head-on train crash in California in 2008 that killed 28 and injured 130 more, Congress passed a law requiring larger, Class 1 freight and passenger rail lines to have PTC collision avoidance technology installed before the end of 2015. Congress extended that deadline to 2018, and then 2020, when it became apparent that rail agencies needed more time, but made it clear that the December 2020 date was firm. 

Administration chief Ronald Batory reported to Congress in August that “significant progress” had been made, and that PTC has been installed and is now being tested on 50,000 of the nearly 58,000 rail miles where it was required. The announcement was welcome news to lawmakers frustrated over a dozen years of delays and mounting costs. 

Just two years ago, the picture didn’t look as rosy, as both commuter and freight rail agencies grappled the best ways to pay for, design, install and test the new technology. “As reliability and stability of PTC systems is still immature, railroads are experiencing significant technical issues with both PTC system hardware and software that often take considerable time to diagnose and resolve, impacting current operations,” Batory told Congress in 2018. 

Wayne DeFlaminis, Washington. D.C. director at HKA, an international construction dispute avoidance and resolution firm, agreed that the technology’s complexity and the need for it to be customized from agency to agency has contributed to the delays. “You’re dealing with advanced systems that cover large areas and encompass numerous technologies—there are a lot of ‘moving parts’ ” DeFlaminis said. “While the goal of these PTC systems may be the same across all of the agencies, the scope of work to design and install these systems is not. Each is bespoke in a sense. These aren’t simple, cookie-cutter projects.” 

Technology projects can be inherently challenging, said Sid Scott, an HKA partner. “While typical construction projects are linear in nature, with a workflow that is somewhat predictive, IT projects are developmental and iterative, and rarely follow a prescriptive or linear approach,” he explained. 

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You’re dealing with advanced systems that cover large areas and encompass numerous technologies - there are a lot of ‘moving parts’. While the goal of these PTC systems may be the same across all of the agencies, the scope of work to design and install these systems is not. Each is bespoke in a sense. These aren’t simple, cookie-cutter projects.”
Tricia M. McCunney, Technical Writer, HKA

This publication presents the views, thoughts or opinions of the author and not necessarily those of HKA. Whilst we take every care to ensure the accuracy of this information at the time of publication, the content is not intended to deal with all aspects of the subject referred to, should not be relied upon and does not constitute advice of any kind. This publication is protected by copyright © 2019 HKA Global Ltd.

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