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Monday, February 8, 2016 4:53PM CST

By Mary Kennedy
DTN Cash Grains Analyst

Despite a three-year extension approved by Congress late last year, three of the nation's largest freight railroad companies informed the Federal Railroad Administration this month that they will not meet the 2018 deadline to install new required safety systems.

The Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 originally mandated that Positive Train Control (PTC) systems be implemented across a significant portion of the nation's rail industry by Dec. 31, 2015. PTC are integrated command, control, communications and information systems for controlling train movements with safety, security, precision and efficiency.

However, following warnings by several railroad companies that they would not be able to meet that deadline, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Sept. 30, 2015, introduced bipartisan legislation to extend the Dec. 31, 2015, deadline for all railroads operating in the United States to be compliant with Positive Train Control (PTC) technology.

In response to that request, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, cautioned that any Congressional action on PTC should ensure that railroads still move swiftly to install the new systems.

"It has been more than 45 years since the National Transportation Safety Board first urged railroads to implement positive train control -- an unacceptable delay in implementation of this critical, life-saving technology that has allowed numerous, preventable tragedies," Blumenthal said in a statement on his website. "Instead, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's bill provides a blanket extension to 2018, a troubling move considering that some railroads are on track to meet the current deadline. Extensions should be granted only to railroads that have demonstrated diligent, good faith efforts to meet the mandate. Only by holding railroads' feet to the fire will this critical, life-saving technology finally be implemented."

On Oct. 27 and 28, 2015, bipartisan votes by lawmakers in the House and Senate passed HR 3819, which extended the deadline for implementing PTC by three years, to Dec. 31, 2018. President Barack Obama signed the bill into law on Oct. 29. All railroads were required to provide their timeline of implementing PTC to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) by February 2016.

CSX, Canadian National and Norfolk Southern informed the FRA this month that they will not meet the 2018 deadline. Here is the link to the Feb. 3, 2016, FRA report on the status of PTC for all railroads operating in the U.S.: https://www.fra.dot.gov/…

CSX COMMENTS ON DIFFICULTY OF IMPLEMENTING PTC

On Sept. 9, 2015, Michael Ward, chairman and CEO of CSX Corporation wrote a letter to Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, explaining the challenges his company faced in implementing the new safety systems.

"Because of the PTC mandate and the nascent technology it represents, CSX's investment for development as of Sept. 9 totals more than $1.3 billion dollars and will ultimately reach east of $1.9 billion," said Ward. "As part of that substantial investment, we must replace 52% or our existing signaling system at a cost of over $800 million."

"The development and implementation of PTC constitutes an unprecedented technological challenge for America's railroads. Such a system requires highly complex technologies able to analyze and incorporate the large number of variables that affects train operations," added Ward.

To read Ward's full letter to Sen. Thune, visit http://goo.gl/…

On Jan. 28, 2015, Frank Lonegro, vice president of service design for CSX Transportation, Inc., also testified before the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee about the challenges of implementing PTC.

"This task is made particularly complex by the need to ensure that PTC systems are fully and seamlessly interoperable across all of the nation's major railroads," Lonegro said. "It is not unusual for one railroad's locomotives to operate on another railroad's tracks. When that happens, the 'guest' locomotives must be able to communicate with, and respond to commands from, the 'host' PTC system. Put another way, a CSX locomotive has to behave like a Norfolk Southern locomotive when it's traveling on NS's tracks; a BNSF locomotive must be compatible with Union Pacific's PTC system when it's on UP tracks, and so on. That's much easier said than done, and ensuring this interoperability has been a significant challenge."

NORFOLK SOUTHERN WEIGHS IN

On Sept. 9, 2015, Norfolk Southern wrote a letter to Sen. Thune explaining the company's position on the implementation of PTC.

The letter stated: "Having begun to look at PTC as early as 2005, NS recognized that there would be significant challenges ahead after the Rail Safety Improvement Act (RSIA) of 2008 legislation established a deadline to complete the installation of an interoperable PTC system by Dec. 31, 2015. So, immediately after RSIA was enacted, NS began to work on multiple fronts to develop the many systems and subsystems necessary to implement PTC. NS began to enter into agreements with other railroads of all sizes regarding standards to ensure that PTC systems would be interoperable across multiple railroads. With industry partners, it created a new company, called PTC 220, to go into the market and acquire the wireless spectrum needed for PTC systems (at the 220 MHz frequency) because of the need for greater coverage, reliability and security than provided by the cellular networks in the U.S.

"In essence, NS and the other Class I railroads were forced to create a private radio frequency network capable of transmitting and receiving data necessary to support an interoperable PTC network. NS also invested to become a 25% owner of Meteorcomm, along with BNSF, CSXT and UP, to design a software-defined radio capable of operating on the 220 MHz frequency as no manufacturers were producing radios meeting those standards at the time. Meteorcomm also worked to design a robust messaging system that would be able to securely transmit the millions of messages an interoperable PTC system requires."

"But that was just the beginning. Before it can fully implement PTC, NS must also:

-- Install almost 5,000 wayside devices along its PTC 'footprint;'

-- Install PTC equipment in 3,400 locomotives;

-- Replace nearly 2,700 exiting signals;

-- Complete GIS mapping and attributing of over 16,000 track miles; and

-- Train over 20,000 employees.

"All of these efforts are well under way. As of September 2015, NS has spent nearly $1 billion and hired or retained 698 signal-related personnel to implement PTC on its system." http://goo.gl/…

DTN reached out to the NS for comments, and in turn, the company sent this link to a video that Norfolk Southern made about the complexities of installing Positive Train Control: https://www.youtube.com/…

Mary Kennedy can be reached at mary.kennedy@dtn.com

Follow Mary Kennedy on Twitter @MaryCKenn

(AG/BAS)


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