- Freight railroads made consistent progress on Positive Train Control (PTC) implementation last quarter, up 4% of tracks, towers and locomotives with the system from Q3, ahead of the December 2018 deadline for full implementation, the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Railroad Administration reported.
- BNSF Raliway continues to lead the way among Class I railroads with PTC, although all railroads appear to be making significant progress on implementing the system on towers ahead of locomotives and tracks.
- Union Pacific, for example, has PTC on 85% of its towers, but has only implemented on 2% of its locomotives and 26% of its track segments. Passenger railroads, meanwhile, are also lagging with most progress attributable to a push to implement by Amtrak (up to 95% from 31% equipped locomotives in Q3).
PTC systems work to help avoid train collisions, derailments caused by speed, erroneous intrusion into work areas, and accidental track switching due to switch malfunction or malfeasance.
Since the PTC effort began in 2008, the Federal Railroad Association (FRA) has given approximately $716 million in grants to support PTC systems, while recent derailments have called attention to the need for increased rail safety. Yet, as reported last quarter, significant challenges exist for railroads attempting to comply with the mandate — not the least of which is the high capital investment required to upgrade 60,000 miles of track at a time when freight revenues are sluggish.
The progress of freight railroads over passenger railroads, however, highlights the benefits of private management for such railroads. Besides Amtrak's push on PTC implementation, which may be correlated with a devastating PTC-exemption-related derailment in New Jersey last year, passenger rail and public transportation appears to be lagging in implementation.
Leaders in the freight rail industry are adamant that government intervention hurts the industry, although the lack thereof would likely have freight carriers postponing safety measures even further. Meanwhile, the Trump administration's push for infrastructure appears to prioritize investing in shovel-ready infrastructure or necessary repairs over funding safety upgrades. Regardless, the latest report shows PTC implementation is happening, albeit slowly.