As PTC deadline nears, are Class I railroads ready?
- Class I railroads are well on their way to meet the December 2018 deadline for positive train control (PTC) implementation. According to data from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), the seven Class I railroads have at least 90% of the total hardware required installed, with BNSF at 100% installation.
- To be compliant, railroads must install sensors on locomotives and track segments, as well as install radio towers to communicate with PTC technology. Class I railroads have made the most progress on radio towers, with five of the seven having installed 100% of the towers.
- Railroads are also training their employees on PTC regulations. BNSF and CSX have trained all of their operators, FRA said, while Canadian Pacific has trained 71%.
With 140,000 miles of freight railroad track across the United States, getting all rails PTC-ready is no easy task.
"What you have is an extremely complicated set of sensors and measuring devices across an extraordinarily large platform," Larry Kahn, director of Cushman & Wakefield's Rail Advisory Group, told Supply Chain Dive. The complexity of the regulation led Congress to extend the deadline from 2015 to 2018.
Preparing infrastructure for PTC is also very expensive. "To wire a locomotive properly can be as much as $0.5 million," Kahn said. In addition, he said each PTC switch can cost up to $600,000. While the FRA has provided $925 million in grants to support implementation, railroads are left absorbing some of the associated costs.
Perhaps railroads "didn't adopt this with a real sense of urgency" at first because of the complexity and expense, Kahn said. In November 2016, a year after the original deadline, only 38% of locomotives were equipped for PTC.
But recent fatal rail accidents have underscored the dire need for PTC, and Class I railroads are showing encouraging signs of progress toward safer rail transit.
Despite high upfront costs, Kahn said the big data garnered from sensors can add value. "You know where everything is a lot more accurately. You know where some of your congestion points are," he said. "There's power in information, always."
- Supply Chain Dive PTC implementation advances for freight railroads, but at a snail's pace
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