Metrolink's PTC-equipped locomotives are clearly identified.

USA: Full implementation of Positive Train Control on all required routes has been achieved ahead of the Congressional deadline of December 31 2020, the Federal Railroad Administration confirmed on December 29.

PTC is required to prevent train-to-train collisions, over-speed derailments, incursions into established work zones, and movements of trains through wrongly set turnouts. The Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 mandated its implementation on any main lines carrying inter-city or commuter passenger trains, 5 million tonnes of freight or more and certain hazardous materials, making a total of 92 575 route-km to be equipped.

FRA’s implementing regulations required the use of interoperable systems, ensuring that locomotives of host and tenant railroads operating on the same tracks are able to communicate with the same PTC, and enabling uninterrupted movements over the boundaries between different railroads.

Typical stand-alone PTC application. Image: TTCI

Typical stand-alone PTC application. Image: TTCI

Following a three-year extension reflecting delays in developing the technology, physical installation was due to be completed by the end of 2018, with a further two years allowed at FRA’s discretion to enable final commissioning.

FRA has now certified that each railroad’s PTC installation complies with the technical requirements, while individual operators have reported to the agency that they have achieved full interoperability between each applicable host and tenant.

‘Achieving 100% PTC implementation is a tremendous accomplishment and reflects the Department’s top priorities — safety, innovation and infrastructure’, said Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao.

Decade of engagement

According to FRA, full implementation marked ‘the culmination of over a decade of sustained and direct engagement and collaboration’ between the agency, seven Class I freight railroads, Amtrak, 28 commuter railroads, and five other freight railroads that host scheduled passenger services. ‘This accomplishment encompasses thousands of hours of testing and deployment, innovative technological solutions, and a tremendous amount of co-ordination among nearly 100 host and tenant railroads, railroad associations, material suppliers, and service providers’, it noted. Over the past decade the Department of Transportation has provided approximately $3·4bn in federal grants and loans to support PTC installation.


‘I congratulate the railroads, particularly their frontline workers, as well as PTC system suppliers and vendors on this transformative accomplishment’, added FRA Administrator Ronald Batory. He acknowledged that ‘many industry associations, including the Association of American Railroads, American Short Line & Regional Railroad Association, American Public Transportation Association, Commuter Rail Coalition, National Railroad Construction & Maintenance Association, Railway Supply Institute, and Railway Systems Suppliers, have demonstrated an unwavering commitment to supporting this unprecedented undertaking’.

‘PTC is a critical piece and new dimension of safety in the railroad industry, but it does not take the place of the men and women who operate and maintain freight and passenger trains’, Batory emphasised. ‘At its core, PTC is a risk reduction system that will make a safe industry even safer, and provide a solid foundation upon which additional safety improvements will be realised.’

Noting that the Class I railroads had invested nearly $11·5bn on developing and installing PTC, AAR President & CEO Ian Jefferies said ‘America’s railroads have reached an important milestone this year that will enhance safety and springboard innovation long into the future. While the industry is proud of this accomplishment, the job is never finished. Railroads will remain forward-looking and continue advancing safety through innovation and technology.’