Railroads across the U.S. are making uneven progress in implementing Positive Train Control (PTC), the technology designed to automatically stop a train before collisions occur.

West Coast v. East Coast

Data released recently by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) show that freight railroads now have PTC active on only 12 percent of their tracks, while passenger trains have it on 23 percent. That’s up from last year – from nine percent and 22 percent, respectively, but the improvement has come mainly on the West Coast, while East Coast railroads, other than SEPTA and Amtrak, have remained relatively stagnant.

“Passenger and freight railroads must continue their progress implementing Positive Train Control and work to beat the deadlines Congress set – because PTC saves lives,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

Deadline delayed

A Dec. 31, 2016 deadline was moved to the end of 2018 at the earliest after railroads complained that the rule was difficult and expensive to implement.

PTC is geared toward preventing train-to-train collisions, derailments caused by excessive train speed and train movements through misaligned track switches.

Grants, loans and a PTC testbed

The FRA says it has provided significant assistance to  help railroads implement PTC, including:

  • More than $716 million to passenger railroads, including nearly $400 million in Recovery Act funding.
  • Anearly $1 billion loan to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to implement PTC on the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North.
  • $25 million in grant funding to railroads, suppliers and state and local governments. Many awards will help railroads achieve interoperability among the different PTC systems that railroads are deploying.
  • $199 million in grants to commuter railroads in fiscal year 2017.

The agency also built a PTC testbed at the Transportation Technology Center (TTC) in Pueblo, Colorado and worked with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation to improve the approval process for PTC communication towers.