PTC Deadline Could Stop All Trains.
Oh, please! Not another crisis! Well, probably not, but the potential is there for an end, albeit temporary, to a lot of passenger rail service in the country.
It all goes back to 2008 and a suburb of Los Angeles when a Metrolink commuter train ran through a stop signal and collided with a freight. It was bad. The accident killed 25 people and injured 135. It also caused the federal government to mandate the installation of a sophisticated system known as Positive Train Control or PTC for short.
PTC uses computers—what doesn’t?—and a Global Positioning System (GPS) to monitor the progress of a train and, among other things, automatically stop it if, for instance, it runs through a red light. The trouble is, PTC is expensive: lots of sophisticated equipment has to be installed both at trackside and in every locomotive cab.
Furthermore, the government said the railroads had to have PTC installed and working by the end of next year. At the time, the railroads said it would be difficult to meet that deadline; now they’re saying it’s impossible. And if the government doesn’t grant an extension, when we arrive at New Year’s Day of 2017, the freight railroads are saying they will not allow passenger trains to run on their tracks. While it’s possible that the slower freights would be allowed to keep running, Amtrak and commuter trains would certainly be shut down. Furthermore, there are cynics among us who are muttering that the anti-Amtrak elements in Congress could seize upon this issue as an excuse to . . .
It’s easy for the government to say the freights have got to have PTC up and running by such-and-such a date. But that meant someone would have to design, manufacture and install something like 20 new components. Then there is the compatibility issue. A long-distance Amtrak train my run over track owned and maintained by four or five different railroads and the PTC equipment installed in the head end of the Amtrak locomotive would have to work with the PTC systems each of those railroads had installed. (The word someone dreamed up for that is “interoperability”.
Of course, no one thinks this crisis will actually occur because everyone thinks Congress will amend the law to extend the deadline. On the other hand, who knows what this bunch will do? In fact, as I write this, a bunch of those bozos are actually trying too shut down the government. If they’ll do that, I suppose they wouldn’t even blink at stopping all passenger trains.