And Sometimes I Don't
At the AREMA Conference, Sept 29-Oct 2 2013, in Indianapolis, it was reported that officials from Amtrak, BNSF, CN, CSX, NS, and the UP stated that their railroads' schedules for implementation of PTC will meet the mandatory 2015 due date set in the original legislation.
Perhaps I should repeat that, if you are, as am I, somewhat perplexed. After all, it was not so very long ago that the Class 1s were cautioning that meeting the 2015 deadline was about as likely as a statue honoring Angela Merkel appearing in the Parthenon in Athens, Greece.
But I won't. Space considerations. If you don't believe me, and I don't blame you, here's the source.
By August 2012, the Class 1s had so convinced FRA of the near impossiblity of meeting the 2015 date, that FRA produced a report to Congress suggesting that Congress consider pushing the date back 3 years to 2018.
In February, 2013, at the NTSB forum on PTC, Gerhard Thelen, representing the AAR made a presentation where he argued in essence that the technological challenges were overwhelming.
Mr. Thelen argued that 1) PTC is "much more complicated than anyone ever envisioned" and 2) the necessary reliability of the vital back office systems for PTC had proven "unattainable."
Later in the same forum, Jeff Young of the UP emphasized that the problems in the back office system development were not expected to be resolved before 2014.
This past April, at the Global Transport Forum's PTC World Congress everybody, just about everybody, with some few exceptions, like myself maybe, ignorant of the immense technological challenges to the point of optimism, thought 2015 was undoable.
So what gives? Did those officials let some cat out of a bag? For sure, what happened in Indianapolis did not stay in Indianapolis . Several weeks after that short article had appeared on the RT&S, Ed Hamberger, president and ceo of the AAR provided a statement to RT&S, making it clear that things weren't quite so clear as was made clear in Indianapolis.
Sure, "given the diverse nature and size of America's railroads," some may have PTC up and running. But not all. And why not? Well, ummh.....looking at past testimony from AAR, I would say..."back office systems," right? Wrong. Now it's not back office systems. Now it's "interoperability" and "flawless" (inter)communication.
The statement does not indicate what the problems with interoperatibility are. It's a short statement, after all.
The statement does not indicate if these problems are systemic, in the messaging that the PTC platform and logic employes to measure, initiate, and enforce actions, or if they are based on the proprietary interests of the individual railroads which both cooperate and compete with each other, share some information while reserving other information, and may have hopes and plans for the wireless data platform and information processing that go for beyond the mandatory functionality for PTC.
As far as I know, BNSF has equipped approximately 8000 miles of its network for PTC operation. The messaging protocols required for secure communicatons used on one property can certainly be used, and adapted to all other properties.
My calculation, crude at best (as I am) is that BNSF's obligation is to equip approximately 12,000 to 14,000 miles for PTC operation. As far as I know, BNSF has not indicated that it cannot meet the 2015 due date.
Which raises a question of interoperability of its own: Other railroads have trackage rights over the BNSF. Railroads utilize "run-through" agreements, allowing the use of one company's railroads across the territory of another railroad.
What happens in 2016 if BNSF has PTC operation? PTC cannot work in a "mixed" or "mingled" service of PTC-equipped and non-equipped trains. The positive feature means just that. It means positive protections against.....human error. Allowing trains to operate in that PTC environment that are not so positively equipped nullifes that protection.
The statement then refers to the latest "wrinkle" in the implementation process: the FCC's requirement for historical and environmental review of the impact of the wireless data radio antennas, the installation of which may encroach on Native American sacred sites. According to Mr. Hamberger, "until a workable soluton is proposed, the commission has directed railroads to stop any and all antenna installation, even though almost all installation will occur on railroad property and rights of way."
Well, that's a fine mess, a classic one. If this column weren't meant for the general audience, I'd use some of my very colorful and well-worn railroad vocabulary instead of the words "fine" and "classic." But this mess has nothing to do with interoperability, back office servers, data radio installation on locomotives, algorithms,message protocols, etc. etc. etc. It's a mess that will be resolved
So...so it's not clear to me if the Class 1s, as reported in Indianapolis, are capable of complying with the mandatory operational date for PTC, or if the railroads are not capable of achieving that compliance.
It's not clear to me exactly what represents the critical obstacle on the critical path to achieving compliance.
By the way, Iam clear as to the reasons why no statue of Angela Merkel will ever appear in the Parthenon.
November 4, 2013
"Ohhhhhh...Sometimes I get a good feeling"...(yeah)
--Etta James "Something's Got a Hold on Me" (Chess Records, 1961)