Frequently Asked Questions

The following are the most frequently asked questions related to Positive Train Control, its implementation, and challenges.

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How does ptc work?

A Positive Train Control System will send visual and audible information to train crew members about areas where the train needs to be slowed or stopped. This information includes the status of approaching signals, the position of approaching switches, speed limits at approaching curves and other reduced-speed locations, speed restrictions at approaching crossings, and speed restrictions at areas where work is being performed on or near the tracks. PTC communicates with the train’s onboard computer, which audibly warns the engineer and displays the train’s safe braking distance based on the train’s speed, length, width, weight, and the grade and curvature of the track. If the engineer does not respond to the ample audible warning and screen display, the onboard computer will activate the brakes to safely stop the train.

What are the key components of ptc?

There are three main elements of a PTC system, which are integrated by a wireless communications system:

1.    Onboard or Locomotive System
Monitors the train’s position and speed and activates braking as necessary to enforce speed restrictions and unauthorized train movement into new segments of track. 

2.    Wayside System
Monitors railroad track signals, switches, and track circuits to communicate authorization for movement to the locomotive. 

3.    Back Office Server

The store house for all information related to a particular rail network and trains operating across it—speed limits, track composition, speed of individual locomotives, train composition, etc.—and transmits the authorization for individual trains to move into new segments of track. 

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will PTC prevent all railroad incidents?

PTC will not stop a train approaching an obstructed street-level crossing, nor will it prevent a vehicle from driving around lowered railroad crossing gates.  PTC will not prevent trespassers from making their way onto the tracks, nor notify the train’s braking system of the trespasser. A conductor’s visual observation of either of these incursions fails to provide adequate braking time for a train weighing 2,000 tons or more.

What PTC does not do: 

  • PTC does NOT prevent grade crossing or trespasser incidents.  Nearly 96% of rail-related (i.e., notPTC-preventable) fatalities are attributable to grade crossing incursions (273 deaths and 813 injuries in 2017) and trespassing (560 deaths in 2017).

  • PTC does NOT initiate in-terminal stops:  the current generation of technology being installed has not been designed to bring trains to a stop to prevent end-of-track collisions, such as those incidents at Atlantic Terminal (LIRR, 1/4/17) and Hoboken (NJT, 9/29/16).  A robust Obstructive Sleep Apnea screening and treatment program, however, could have prevented both. Learn More…

How much will it cost?

It is estimated that the cost to install PTC across all 41 railroads will be $14 billion.  Publicly-funded commuter railroads alone will spend roughly $4.1 billion to implement PTC.  

In nine years following the Chatsworth accident, up to the end of the federal fiscal year 2017, Congress had made available $1.3 billion in grantfunding support for PTC installation for the entire industry.

As publicly-funded entities, many of the nation’s commuter railroads are cash-strapped and were forced to defer other critical safety or capital programs in order to comply with the federally mandated PTC implementation schedule.Some agencies bonded to finance their system installation, which, paradoxically, now make the railroad ineligible for the PTC grant funding being made available at the eleventh hour. Federal grant conditions do not allow railroads to pay for the projects that were deferred in order to redirect local funding to PTC.Further, at this stage in the installation/implementation process, given the timing of the release of the notice of funding opportunity, awards will necessarily be focused on next generation improvements to PTC and not the initial, mandated implementation.

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