and the we get this...http://www.masstransitmag.com/article/11449844/ptc-issues-loom-as-deadline-approaches
And if I weren't such an even-tempered, easy-going, laid-back kind of surfer dude transplanted to Manhattan (New York's a lonely town, where you're the only surfer boy around), I can imagine myself being very upset over both.
Wait a minute, I'm not. I'm not even-tempered, easy-going, laid-back, and the closest I ever got to being a surfer was learning the lyrics to Beach Boys' songs, or maybe sleeping in the dunes near Half-Moon Bay in California, or my wife, yes she's definitely the closest I ever got to surfing. She is from California.
So...so what's the problem? There's more than one. What are the problems?
Let's start with the article in Mass Transit:
1. The Metrolink accident in 2005 at Glendale did not cause a "sea change" in the thinking about PTC. The 2005 accident was not caused by human error on the part of the train crew. An individual deliberately parked his SUV on a grade crossing thus obstructing the tracks, but not the action of the crossing protection. The Metrolink train hit the vehicle, derailed, colliding with two other trains, one a freight train in a siding, the other a passenger train moving on the adjacent track in the opposite direction.
The incident that cause the "sea change" occurred in 2008 in Chatsworth, California when the locomotive driver of a Metrolink commuter train ignored an approach signal and a stop signal and entered a single track main line without authority. The Metrolink train, moving at about 47 mph then struck a Union Pacific freight train operating with signal authority in the opposite direction.
Congress responded by including in the Rail Safety Improvement Act the 2015 mandate for positive train control that would prevent train-to-train collision, overspeeding, incursion into a work zone, and operation through an improperly lined switch. This legislation did not include a requirement for detection of highway vehicle incursion at a grade crossing. That's one.
2. Contrary to the statement in the article, PTC was not "floated first" decades ago in Europe. What was floated in Europe was and remains ERTMS, European Rail Traffic Management System, which consists of ETCS, European Train Control System Levels 1, 2, 3, and GSM-R, a cellular radio frequency dedicated to digital transmissions of movement authorities, and restrictions ot movement authorities to trains. ETCS Levels are defined by technique-- the mechanisms utilized for controlling train movements. PTC is defined by function. As for that decades ago stuff... the US has an extensive history of experimentation with systems that "wanted to be" precursors to PTC-- the then BN's ARES system in the late 1980s, early 1990s; CBTM developed by Ron Lindsey in response to the MARC collision in 1996; GE's ill-fated Precision Train Control; and the NAJPTC, North American Joint Positive Train Control Project, a combined effort of FRA, AAR, IDOT (Illinois DOT) with Lockheed Martin as the systems integrator for developing a "high-speed" PTC system for the St. Louis-Chicago corridor-- that was back in 2000.
3. Then there's this-- the moaning, the lamentation, the wailing, the rending of garments over the complexity of PTC, the burden of PTC, the cost of PTC, the everything of PTC -- although make no mistake, all railroads are absolutely positively committed to the installation of PTC-- just eighteen months before the mandatory date of installation and operation. How can the railroads ever accomplish this monumental undertaking in so little time?
Well, the time has not been that little, really. FRA's rule-making on this matter was functionally completed in 2010. As we are inclined to say in this business "So why the hold up?" Indeed, what was happening between 2010 and 2014, that has prevented any commuter railroad for installing test corridors? Software problems? Radio spectrum availability? Supplier scarcity? Protocol development? All of the above? Maybe. Maybe not. BNSF has installed ETMS, the basic platform for the Class 1s interoperable system over about half its territory. So what's the hold up?
Which gets us to the article in Progressive Railroading, where FRA announces "Deep Dive, The Sequel" because of two disturbing overspeeding incidents on the Metra system in Chicago.
What's interesting about this juxtaposition, about these juxtapositions, is that the railroads proclaim to be fully committed to PTC (at least, now), with implementation unlikely if not impossible by the deadline date, while at the same time the operation of the railroad makes it clear that PTC is long overdue; how vulnerable railroads are to catastrophic human error; how little time is left, in reality, to prevent the next fatal derailment.
You know what bugs me? Besides everything? Just that both the accident that propelled Congress into mandating PTC, and the accident that drove FRA to conduct its first "Deep Dive," to issue its Emergency Order, to mandate changes to Metro-North Railroad's operating procedures when those very same operating procedures were utilized across the industry and by railroads with enforcement systems inferior to Metro-North's, if not absent entirely-- both those accidents could have been prevented by systems less costly, less complicated, than PTC.
Cab-signals with automatic speed control would have prevented the collision in Chatsworth, California, and utilizing that very same system to "push" a "medium" code through the rail, forcing the train to reduce speed to 30 mph, would have prevented the Spuyten Duyvil derailment.
Of course that same technology would have prevented the two derailments, one fatal, at the Metra interlocking, and could have been used to prevent the recent incidents of overspeeding.
This application of "old" technology would have spared us another in depth inquiry, which won't tell us what is already painfully clear: that the complaints about PTC are the very same complaints, hesitancies, resistance deployed against those earlier techologies that would have pre-empted the need for Congressional action.
Sometimes what you won't pay for costs you the most.
June 16, 2014
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