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Federal Rail Study Cites ACE At-Risk

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) on Friday released the 2018 Quarter 2 status update on railroads’ self-reported progress toward implementing positive train control (PTC) systems.

The latest data, current as of June 30, 2018, shows that 15 railroads have installed 100 percent of the PTC system hardware that must be installed for implementation, based on a review of the railroads’ PTC Implementation Plans and quarterly progress reports for Quarter 2 of 2018. Twelve other railroads have installed between 95 and 99 percent of the PTC system hardware identified in their PTC Implementation Plans. All railroads, except for one, that use spectrum-based PTC systems have acquired sufficient spectrum.

This marks a significant improvement from December 2016, where freight railroads had PTC active on just 16 percent of required tracks, while passenger railroads were at 24 percent.

In addition, 14 railroads have initiated sufficient revenue service demonstration (RSD) or met substitute criteria, which is also one of the six statutory criteria needed to qualify for an alternative schedule. PTC systems are in RSD or operation on approximately 37,705 route miles (65 percent) of the nearly 58,000 route miles that are subject to the statutory mandate.

“The railroads have achieved some significant improvements over the past year implementing this safety technology,” said FRA Administrator Ronald L. Batory. “While we are seeing progress among a majority of railroads, we want to see everyone meet their requirements.”

Quarter 2 data shows a 25 percent drop in the number of “at-risk” railroads from 12 to nine. FRA currently considers any railroad that installed less than 90 percent of its PTC system hardware as of June 30, 2018, to be at risk, as installation of all PTC system hardware is only an initial phase of implementing a PTC system and only one of the six statutory criteria required to qualify for an alternative schedule.

The nine at-risk railroads are: New Mexico Rail Runner Express (Rio Metro), Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority, New Jersey Transit, Altamont Corridor Express, Maryland Area Regional Commuter, Trinity Railway Express, South Florida Regional Transportation Authority, Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board (Caltrain) and Central Florida Rail Corridor (SunRail). The nine at-risk railroads own or control approximately 665 route miles that are subject to the statutory mandate, which is approximately 1.1 percent of the route miles that must be governed by a PTC system and 0.475 percent of the U.S. rail network.

Class I railroads and any entity that provides intercity or commuter rail passenger transportation must fully implement a PTC system on all required route miles by Dec. 31, 2018, unless a railroad qualifies for an alternative schedule under the Positive Train Control Enforcement and Implementation Act of 2015 (PTCEI Act). The PTCEI Act provides that a railroad’s alternative schedule, if any, must contain a deadline that is as soon as practicable, but no later than Dec. 31, 2020.

Since January 2017, DOT and FRA have taken several actions to help facilitate and expedite railroads’ required implementation of PTC systems. Among them were:

• Sent letters in June 2017 to governors and state departments of transportation regarding any commuter railroad in the state that had installed less than 50 percent of its PTC system hardware as of Dec. 31, 2016. FRA emphasized the importance of the state government ensuring these railroads have proper technical support and sufficient oversight of PTC system implementation;

• Sent a Dec. 27, 2017, letter from Secretary Elaine L. Chao to all Class I railroads, intercity passenger railroads, and commuter railroads stressing the urgency and importance of safely implementing PTC systems during the upcoming year and meeting the statutory deadline; 

• Assisted the Federal Transit Administration in awarding over $197 million in grants to commuter railroads and state and local governments in fiscal year (FY) 2017 for the installation of PTC systems;

• Held face-to-face meetings with the major PTC system vendors and suppliers and all 41 railroads subject to the statutory mandate to implement PTC systems;

• Engaged with Class I railroads, intercity passenger and commuter railroads, and other railroads regarding compliance with the PTC regulations, and;

• Sent letters in June 2018 to the 12 railroads that remained at risk of neither meeting the Dec. 31, 2018, deadline nor the statutory criteria required to qualify for an alternative schedule, specifically because self-reported data from these 12 railroads indicated that each had installed less than 85 percent of its PTC system hardware as of March 31, 2018.