Forty years ago, long-haul passenger operations were separated, organizationally, from the freight carriers.
Thirty years ago, freight carriers were allowed to divest themselves of their commuter operations. "Whew," said the CEOs of the Class 1s, "That's a load off our backs."
Indeed, not worrying about passengers allows one to worry about the bottom line, that mean green, or, as our British cousins call it "the readies" (see the works of JJ Connolly).
However, unless the commuter railroads, and their government agency sponsors, were fortunate enough to own their own fixed guideways, the commuter railroads had-- let's put this diplomatically-- reduced input into the capital decisions made about signal and train control systems, interlocking placement and configurations, and all those glorious details that translate the vital logic of safe train separation into efficient operating practice.
And then... along came Chatsworth, California and ...
...and as Grady Cothen once remarked, we'd been telling Congress for twenty years that PTC would stop this sort of collision, and apparently Congress decided to take us up on it.
For better or worse. For better and worse.
Where did that leave our commuter railroads? In truth, it didn't leave them anywhere. Commuter railroads could have, should have, separated themselves in their response to the RSIA 2008 from Class 1s.
The commuter railroads, if they had an effective organizing body, as the Class 1s have, as the AAR is...
(1) should have distinguished those commuter operations already employing automatic train control systems from those that did not
(2) could have proposed, for those ATC equipped properties a different method for achieving the intent of PTC based on their own analysis of the vulnerability of ATC systems
(3)could have utilized the remedy to that vulnerability as the initial step to be taken on their owned/operated properties not utilizing ATC
4) could have offered 1,2, and 3 as the basis for a realistic schedule of a realistic positive train control, dispensing with, for the most part, the functional requirement for enforcing temporary and civil speed restrictions, and the enforcement against movement for an improperly lined switch.
The commuter railroads would have then separated themselves from the Class 1s, and the Class 1 operating monopoly of the radio spectrum, the operating platform, and the functional system for establishing PTC.
But would have could have should have aren't wishful thinking so much as they are parts of an epitaph.
So... so consultants were duly hired, plans were duly filed, and the worries, concerns, complaining ensued. Money being what money is in this world, commander and master, most of the complaints focus on cost, on the unfunded mandate, on the cost of the unfunded mandate, on the schedule for compliance with the cost of the unfunded mandate.
We're four years into the PTC mandate, more than halfway by my count and I don't know that much has changed.
Money is still the big issue.
I don't even know if anybody's put Wabtec to the test for commuter operations-- providing proof that a wireless based system, utilizing GPS and data radios for train control can handle the "peak of the peak," the area, in time and space, of the most intensive train operatins.
Can the versions of the ETMS system handle
35 trains operating in the same direction in 1 hour
on 2 tracks over a distance of 4 miles,
with 3 interlockings in that section,
with signal block lengths of approximately 1100 feet,
a maximum authorized speed of 60 mph and a mandatory slowdown from 60 to 15 mph when approaching the final interlocking
and make schedule???
I sure would like to know.
Meanwhile..... meanwhile say you are the CEO or COO of a commuter railroad that owns and operates its own property. Say you have installed ATC on your railroad; say have a 4 aspect cab signal system, with wayside signals only at interlockings. What's you biggest risk? Your biggest risk is the low speed/high speed collision because your system provides for operation at normal speed, limited speed, medium speed, and restricted speed. Your system does not distinguish between restricted speed and stop, because both register as "no code."
Consequently, any train without authorization can enter an interlocking, any interlocking at speeds below 20 or 15 mph and obstruct the movement of a train with authority, operating at up to 60 mph, before the violation is detected, and the cab signal/speed control mandates restricted speed. And then?.... And then it's all about the thing we never configure, we never trust, we never calculate-- it's all about luck; when the violation occurs; is the train with authority already in the interlocking; is there sufficient braking distance to reduce the speed of the train to a level less than lethal?
So I would have gone to FRA and I would have said. "Look this is my risk. I have to address the greatest risk first. My resources, great or small, have to be directed towards the greatest weakness. Consequently, I will install a positive stop feature in my ATC system, so that no train can enter an interlocking without authority."
And then I would have said... "We are analyzing the data from the locomotive event recorders for every trip made over the past 6 months, for violations of temporary and civil speed restriction. We will advise you of the frequency of such events. My estimate is that such violations, exceeding the authorized speed by more than 5 mph, occur less than 1% of the time.
Our locomotives, EMUs, control cabs are already capable of transmitting real time information regarding speed and location. We will monitor that information on a daily basis. In the areas of civil, permanent restrictions, on curves, over bridges etc. where the restriction is 10 mph or greater than the MAS of the track approaching the restriction, or where violations exceed 5 mph more than 0.1% of the time, we will install and enforce, essentially, a signal that will require the engineer to reduce speed.
I would have said, in areas of temporary speed restrictions, we will analyze daily event recorder information from 15% of the trains operating through the restricted area. If non-compliance rates exceed 1 in 15, we will advance our schedule for installing "overspeed" prevention.
I would have studied the risk for incursion by a train into a work zone and proposed a schedule for the positive prevention of such incursion based on the actual records of train movements.
And then? And then an effective organizing body of the commuter railroads would have taken that information to those properties that own and operate their own service on their own tracks . I would have convinced those properties to install positive train stop at interlockings as soon as possible and present FRA with a schedule for achieving the other PTC functionalities based on the risk factor derived from the actual record of train movements.
And for my constituent railroads that operate over the tracks of the Class 1s? I would spend the $70,000 to equip each locomotive with the on-board platform to operate over those tracks, and then I'd offer any help the Class 1s needed in equipping their locomotives to run over my system.
That's what I would do. And if I were COO of a commuter railroad, I would share tis approach with every one of my colleagues. But I'm not. So this is copyrighted.
July 21, 2012
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