FRA: New Era of Rail Safety with Approval of First Positive Train Control System

WASHINGTON – The first Positive Train Control (PTC) system capable of automatically controlling train speed and movements to prevent certain accidents, including train collisions has been approved.

“This is a major achievement that marks the beginning of a new era of rail safety,” said Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph H. Boardman. “The steps FRA and railroads are taking show that applying PTC technology can work and will provide important safety benefits.”

In 2005, FRA revised federal signal and train control regulations to facilitate and enable development and deployment of PTC technology, Boardman said.

Specifically, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) approved the BNSF Railway’s Product Safety Plan for its Electronic Train Management System (ETMS), an overlay technology that augments and supplements existing train control methods.

ETMS employs both digital communications and a global positioning system to monitor train location and speed within track authority limits to prevent certain types of accidents, including train collisions, Boardman said. The ETMS system includes an in-cab electronic display screen that will first warn of a problem and then automatically engage the train’s braking system if a locomotive engineer fails to act in accordance with operating instructions, he said.

The FRA action allows BNSF to implement ETMS on 35 specific freight lines in 17 states, and requires appropriate employee training before it can be initiated. Deployment of the technology to additional BNSF rail lines or an expansion of ETMS capabilities will require additional FRA review and approval.

Boardman said he believes the rail industry will increasingly embrace and adopt PTC technology as other railroads – among them, Union Pacific, Norfolk Southern, and CSX Transportation – are each making significant strides to develop PTC systems. In addition to its safety benefits, PTC can support rail operations by increasing the capacity of high-density rail lines, improving overall efficiency.