Wednesday, February 15, 2017

BNSF update on implementing PTC

I learned from this article that "routes carrying passengers and/or toxic-by-inhalation commodities" are the ones required to upgrade to Positive Train Control. I live a few blocks from BNSF's former-CB&Q route through the western suburbs of Chicago and our signals were upgraded a couple of years ago. I have already posted about the new crossing gates being bad. Note only do they have a lot of false closings (the gates go down but a train never arrives), they go down sooner before the train arrives and stay down longer after the train leaves. During the previous decades I lived here with the old signals, I never saw a false closing.

I noticed that routes carrying oil and ethanol trains don't need protection. Fortunately, the route by me carries Amtrak trains so we are getting protection.

In this diagram, notice that they need many base stations distributed along the protected routes.

The mandate for PTC was issued in 2008 because of a Congressional response to train accidents with a deadline for 2015. One of the reasons the railroads did not meet that deadline is that the Federal Communications Commission decided that each base station needed its own license, but the FCC did not process the licenses in a timely fashion. Getting caught between federal agencies (Surface Transportation Board and FCC) appears like being caught between a rock and a hard place.

We see so many false closings at Main Street in Downers Grove, IL, because that is the "fail safe" mode. That is, if the electronics get "confused" for any reason, they will drop the gates because that is safer than leaving them up while a train goes by. But that problem doesn't bother the railroads, just the people that live along the tracks. (It can back up traffic on Main Street for blocks.) I assume the fail safe mode for PTC will be to put a train into emergency stop. Emergency stops can cause damage to the goods inside the cars, especially automobiles inside vehicle transport cars. (For an example of automobile damage, this is a video from 2-Mile Trains.) If PTC causes unnecessary emergency stops because of "confused electronics," that will cost the railroads. Even if PTC causes false "gentle stops," that will hurt the railroads because it delays not only the train that stopped, but trains behind it. Since false stops do cost the railroads, they will then push for fixes. Hopefully those fixes will also finally fix the false gate closings.

Update: UP's status

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