Time for railroads to implement positive track | Brunell

While the investigation continues into the deadly Amtrak derailment near DuPont, the clock continues to tick on the implementation of Positive Track Control (PTC). The deadline is Dec. 31, 2018.

PTC integrates new satellite tracking (GPS) and trackside technology for passenger, freight and commuter rail service. It is designed to instantly feed mountains of detailed and complex information to control centers and moving locomotives to automatically stop speeding trains from going off the track and colliding.

Neither the track on the new Point Defiance bypass between Tacoma and Olympia nor the engines propelling Amtrak Train 501 on its inaugural high-speed run were operating with the new anti-crash system.

“The lightly used freight line, first laid out in 1891, would be converted into a bypass route to allow passenger trains to avoid a congested section of tracks and tunnels that run along Puget Sound in Tacoma,” the Wall Street Journal reported.

It was track upgraded by the state of Washington to allow trains to reach speeds up to 80 mph. High-speed commuter rail was planned to relieve vehicle traffic congestion on I-5 between Portland and Seattle.

The plan met with opposition from city leaders in congested communities such as Lakewood, where the speeding trains would run. One controversial glitch was the sharp curve adjacent to the Joint Base Lewis-McChord golf course where the derailment occurred. To avoid derailing, trains were supposed to slow down to 30 mph.

Speed and the tight turn are the focal points of the investigations into the Dec. 18 accident that killed three on the train and sent dozens to the hospital. Miraculously, the incident did not kill a single driver going south on I-5 during the morning commute.

PTC was mandated by Congress and President George W. Bush in 2008. The law required that passenger and Class 1 (larger railroads such as Union Pacific and BNSF) freight railroads complete installation of the technologies designed to automatically stop trains before accidents caused by human error.

According to the Association of American Railroads (AAR), the system is specifically designed to avoid train-to-train collisions, derailments caused by excessive speed, unauthorized incursions by trains onto sections of track where maintenance is taking place, and the movement of a train through a track where the switch is left in the wrong position.

Even without PTC, rail-safety experts told the Wall Street Journal that Amtrak 501 should have been able to pass through the curve safely.

According to AAR, trains and track carrying passengers on main lines or “toxic-by-inhalations materials” were to install PTC by the end of 2015. However, the deadline was subsequently extended for three years.

Such a system requires highly complex technologies able to analyze and incorporate the huge number of variable that affect train operation. The estimated price tag for freight railroad alone is roughly $10.6 billion with hundreds of millions spent each year to maintain the system and train thousands of railroad workers.

In Western Washington, BNSF and Union Pacific trains running north-south carrying oil, coal, lumber, wheat, containers, autos, chemicals and other cargo share common track with Amtrak and Sounder commuter trains.

BNSF and Amtrak share the same rails for east-west routes on the northside of the Columbia River between Vancouver and the Tri-Cities, and over Stevens Pass between Everett and Spokane. They are equipped with PTC.

BNSF stated in a special report issued on Dec. 22 that overall, BNSF is equipping 5,000 locomotives and 11,300 miles of track across its system. It has already logged 800,000 successful PTC trips.

At the end of October, Union Pacific had nearly 6,000 miles with PTC operations and 3,200 engines are now equipped. It anticipates spending $2.9 billion.

Both railroads plan to meet next year’s deadline.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com.


Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@kentreporter.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.kentreporter.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) Please keep letters to 300 words or less.

More in Opinion

Cartoon by Frank Shiers
Editorial: Stopping COVID is now up to each of us

With a resurgence threatening, we need to take greater responsibility to keep the virus in check.

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
Defund the police department? | Roegner

Our country is at a defining moment in our search for true… Continue reading

Why this newspaper is capitalizing Black | Editorial

Moving forward, the Kent Reporter will capitalize Black when referring to the… Continue reading

Season of change for the Kent Reporter

I have always been a firm believer that out of something bad comes something good.

Bob Roegner
Democrats have the edge in WA’s 2020 elections

Last year, most political insiders thought 2020 would be a big Democratic… Continue reading

Back to the wild — a whole new outdoor recreation world | Guest editorial

When enjoying the great outdoors, continue to socially distance and be aware of how else COVID-19 has changed our world.

KCLS is stepping up its commitment to patrons

KCLS has expanding its online resources so patrons can continue to learn, build skills, stay entertained and remain mentally and physically active amid the pandemic.

How using a face mask to cover my Asian face could put me in danger

Since the COVID-19 outbreak began, Asians and Asian Americans have been targeted.

Opinion: Public deserves honest information on sex education

The Washington comprehensive sex education bill passed in the Senate on March 7.

Grocery store staff are working hard to keep the shelves stocked during the COVID-19 pandemic. File photo
Thank you grocery store clerks

Recognizing the sacrifices of our unsung essential workforce.

Helping community organizations as we respond to the coronavirus

Now, more than ever, nonprofits need gifts of time and money

TP shortage is tip of iceberg

Whether it be supplies of daily necessities, medicines or protective clothing, we need to have to patience, understanding and a desire to work together.