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Panel Discusses PTC Implementation

Representatives of three passenger railroads and FRA shared their experiences in the design, installation and testing of PTC and other considerations at a June 11 session, “PTC: Facing the Mirror.”

Bruce Marcheschi, chief executive officer/operations for Chicago’s Metra commuter rail system, noted that 1,300-1,400 trains [passenger, freight and Amtrak] traverse Chicago daily. “There are 14 different railroad entities in the Chicago area who need to work together on PTC interoperability, but we’re up to the challenge,” he continued.

Metra is on course to qualify for the PTC deadline extension to 2020. “PTC implementation is extremely time consuming,” said Marcheschi. “Even if you had all the money you needed, it still takes time.”

Metra expects to complete equipment installation by October of this year, with the agency in revenue service demonstration (RSD) on one of its lines by September as required to qualify for an extension. Metra’s back office was installed in December of 2017 and put into operation in February.

Marcheschi noted how Metra has learned from freight operators the value of setting up a help desk where PTC-related operational issues can be reported—from an operator being unable to initialize a train to equipment problems—and the appropriate assistance provided. “If you haven’t thought about a help desk, it’s a very important piece of the puzzle,” he said.

He also suggested agencies establish a lab if they have the funding. “A lab is like PTC in a box—a hands-on training environment to train your people on all components of PTC,” he said.

Emerald Mancilla, train control systems engineer with the Southern California Regional Rail Authority, operator of Metrolink commuter rail, discussed how the agency has implemented bumper post protection at Los Angeles Union Station.

A highway is located approximately 130 feet beyond the track bumper posts at Union Station. PTC coverage and speed enforcement had ended short of the bumper posts. With more than 90 percent of Metrolink trains originating or terminating at Union Station, the agency realized that additional protection was required.

Track is now under PTC all the way to the bumper posts, with a 1 mph restriction. Mancilla explained that Metrolink achieved this by designating previously non-PTC track as PTC track, thus allowing the agency to enforce speed restrictions to the bumper posts.

Michael Rodriguez, Metrolink senior manager, train control systems, concurred with Marcheschi on the value of a PTC lab to test all facets of implementation and subsequent maintenance. “We utilize our lab to test everything before we go to the field,” he said. Lab testing included the work on bumper post protection at Union Station.
Panelists, from left: Bruce Marcheschi, Michael Rodriguez, Emerald Mancilla and Dr. Mark Hartong (James Cline not pictured).

James Cline, president of the Denton County Transportation Authority in Lewisville, TX, stressed the importance of information sharing as systems carry out PTC implementation. “When you have a small agency like ours with a limited budget and staff resources, it’s incredibly important to leverage the good things that others have already done,” he said. “Let’s share lessons learned so we don’t all have to learn the same thing over and over again.”

Cline also stressed the value of establishing a working group, along the lines of the APTA-initiated E-ATC User Group. DCTA has facilitated numerous on-site meetings with consultants, manufacturers, installers and FRA. “Getting everyone in the same room, at the same time, and having that facetime really has been beneficial to us, and we’ve learned a lot about the process. It’s more effective in later conference calls if you’ve actually met the people first,” he said.

While the agency is 100 percent complete with PTC installation and static testing—looking to begin dynamic testing in July—and on path to entering RSD by year’s end, Cline explained that the agency does plan to apply for an extension.

Cline said he anticipates the overall cost to the agency of PTC implementation to approach $1 million per mile by project completion.

Dr. Mark Hartong, a senior scientific technical advisor with FRA, noted the reality of PTC as a “real-world operational system” with at least 30,000 passenger rail and freight miles currently in revenue service or in RSD.

He described the requirements for a system to qualify for an implementation extension (“alternative schedule” is the official term), pointing out that the requirements are law, not regulation; FRA cannot waive the requirements. To qualify, all equipment must be installed and spectrum be acquired by Dec. 31; the back office up and running; personnel trained; and certain progress on RSD (majority of territory covered for Class I and Amtrak, RSD on one territory for passenger rail).

Hartong cautioned that some railroads are at risk for not qualifying for an extension, emphasizing that FRA is willing to help as much as possible. He concluded by providing contacts at FRA for those systems requiring information or assistance: technical issues, Carolyn Hayward-Williams and Hartong; legal issues, Stephanie Anderson;and programmatic issues, Devin Rouse.
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