Positive Train Control (PTC) systems are technologies designed to automatically stop or slow a train before certain accidents related to human error occur.
Mandated by Congress as part of the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (RSIA), PTC has been an unprecedented technological undertaking requiring each railroad to develop — from scratch — a system comprised of hundreds of thousands of components that must work across an interconnected network of freight, passenger and commuter railroads.
In order to work safely and be fail-safe, PTC systems must be able to determine the precise location, direction and speed of trains, warn train operators of potential problems and bring the train to a stop if the operator does not act.
Strategically Addressing the Root Causes of Accidents
America’s freight railroads have a strategic approach to safety, focusing on the leading causes of incidents — track, equipment and human error — while harnessing innovative solutions to reach an ultimate goal of zero accidents. Those efforts have led to dramatic safety improvement with recent years being the safest in railroad history.
- Track: Track-caused accidents account for 27% of total train accidents. Freight railroads have reduced the track-caused accident rate 40% since 2008, to an all-time low. Record investment — an average of $25 billion each year — and the use of advanced inspection technology have been an important catalyst.
- Equipment: Train accidents caused by equipment represent 14% of total accidents. The equipment-caused accident rate is down 16% since 2008. Enhancements to rail cars, advanced equipment inspection technology and industry-wide asset management programs have all contributed to this safety gain.
- Human Error: Accidents caused by human factors constitute the largest category of train accidents, accounting for 38% in 2017. The human factors-caused accident rate is down 20% since 2008. Rigorous employee training and fatigue management programs are just a few of the initiatives railroads apply to reduce these incidents.
The Role of Positive Train Control Technology
PTC technology is designed to prevent:
- Train-to-train collisions.
- Derailments caused by excessive speed.
- Unauthorized train movement onto sections of track where maintenance activities are taking place.
- Movement of a train through a track switch left in the wrong position.
PTC technology will not prevent:
- Accidents caused as a result of track or equipment failure.
- Improper vehicular movement through a grade crossing.
- Trespassing on railroad tracks.
- Certain types of train operator error.
More Positive Train Control Information
How Positive Train Control Works
Railroads are committed to making a safe network safer and that includes getting PTC deployment right. In 2015, Congress extended the RSIA deadline to ensure development and installation of PTC would work as it should. The new deadline included a two-year testing period beyond 2018 to implement a fully-interoperable PTC system. Class I railroads are on track to meet all statutory deadlines for this important safety technology that will add another layer of protection to America’s rail network.
By December 31, 2018, freight railroads were required to have installed all hardware, acquired all necessary radio spectrum, trained all required employees and have implemented 50% of PTC territory or route miles.
Class I railroads met the 2018 installation deadline and are eligible for up to an additional 24 months to test and ensure the system is fully interoperable.
By December 31, 2020, freight railroads are required to have testing complete and Positive Train Control fully implemented across the required network.