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Officials launch audit after new concerns that PTC won’t be ready by 2018.

Posted on 07-Aug-2017 16:27:12

PTC-3.jpgAfter the news that the US Department of Transport would have to fund $197 million to help railroads reach the positive train control (PTC) deadline, there are new fears that some systems are not moving fast enough. The Department of Transport’s inspector general announced that the office is conducting a new audit to explore how railroads are using federal funds to install the required technology. A lack of PTC has become more obvious in light of recent deadly train crashes which have occurred since the new deadline. So far the technology is operational along 27 percent of freight-rail route miles and 23 percent of passenger-rail route miles recorded at the beginning of the year.

“With less than two years remaining to complete the implementation process, it is imperative that railroads continue to meet implementation milestones.”

Calculated to cost up to $22.5 billion during the next 20 years, PTC is the single-largest regulatory expenditure ever imposed on the industry by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR). The initial bill was proposed by Congress in 2008, although 2015 saw a major accident which killed eight people and left more than 200 injured. This emphasised the urgency of implementing the technology as soon as possible. After an investigation, officials believe the tragedy could have been prevented by PTC because the train’s engineer was running 102mph in a 50mph zone when it derailed.

For this reason, the delivery of PTC is highly complex, requiring the development of safety critical software; installations on 3,150 miles of track; 3,400 locomotives; 1,000 radio towers; and training more than 13,000 employees, according to American Public Transportation Association (APTA).

“The installation of PTC is challenging for a number of reasons, including from a technical perspective.  PTC was not a mature technology when Congress mandated it in the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008,” said a spokesman. “Beyond the technological challenges that have to be addressed, there are significant issues in regard to the costs, scarce qualified resources, and adequate access to track and locomotives for installation and testing.”

Read your copy of the SmartTransit brochureFunding remains a critical concern for the commuter rail agencies, all of which are publicly funded. Currently, $75 million has been awarded to commuter rail agencies through federal grants designated specifically for PTC implementation.  Additionally, $199 million was authorised by Congress but has yet to be appropriated.  Finally, a $967 million loan from the U.S. Department of Transportation was made available to one commuter rail agency for PTC implementation.  

“We continue to closely monitor railroads’ progress implementing Positive Train Control,” said FRA executive director Patrick Warren in a statement, adding, “With less than two years remaining to complete the implementation process, it is imperative that railroads continue to meet implementation milestones.”

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Stephen Scott