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PTC Implementation and Operation

With increased government oversight and growing public interest in rail safety, APTA assembled a panel of representatives from diverse agencies and organizations to discuss ongoing efforts to install federally mandated PTC systems.

The panel featured Jeffrey Knueppel, Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority; James Cline, Denton County Transportation Authority, ­­Lewisville, TX; Gigi Harrington, Caltrain, San Carlos, CA; Andrew Rawls, Sound Transit, Seattle; David Male, AECOM; William Everett, ARINC/­Rockwell Inc.; Ruben Pena, Transportation Technology Center; and David Diaz, LTK Engineering Services, who moderated the discussion.

Panelists explained that PTC systems are available in three configurations: ACSES, a transponder-based technology generally deployed in the Northeast Corridor; I-ETMS, adopted by the freight railroads for nationwide use that relies on GPS and extensive radio communications; and E-ATC, a track circuit-based application most accepted by smaller systems that don’t require interoperability with other systems.

Implementation challenges vary among systems, they said, and include availability of radio spectrum, balancing cyber security and physical security needs, tight train berthing and defining the responsibilities of tracks that are owned, operated and maintained by different entities. Cost is an over­riding issue along with the availability of necessary equipment and professional expertise.

The challenges are not all technical, some panelists said, adding that many of the toughest problems are administrative. Across the board, speakers emphasized the importance of not just meeting government requirements, but implementing a PTC system for the future.

Despite a wide divergence of experiences and implementation budgets (ranging from $50 million to $1 ­billion), the speakers raised some common themes.

First, all the panelists agreed that PTC implementation needs to be a priority from the start of the project. Second, a good team, preferably one that can remain together throughout the duration of the project, is essential. Third, public transit systems need a good plan. Finally, successfully implementing PTC is helped by good circumstances, meaning the most advantageous technical elements as well as the existence of effective procurement processes and interagency cooperation.

All the systems represented at the session were at different stages of implementation and testing but are confident in their ability to meet the government deadline of December 2018.

FRA is expected to release its “PTC Planning and Implementation Guide” in the near future. It will contain checklists, training and testing programs and illustrations for implementation work.

Industry experts discussed the challenges of PTC implementation at a crowded concurrent session.

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