Positive train control (PTC) is an effective technology that aims to ease heavy-haul freight railroading in the United States of America. It also serves to protect track workers, prevent train collisions, and enforce permanent and temporary speed restrictions. PTC offers numerous advantages such as improved safety, increased network capacity, improved service, and lower operation costs. The implementation of various progressive systems helps provide speed restrictions, provide train location tracking, enforce train authority limits, interface with rail detection systems, and monitor point position. PTC systems deliver information to locomotive cabs that are necessary to maintain safety. The purpose of positive train control is to avoid train collisions, control permanent and temporal speed limits, and maintain the railroad works. In other words, positive train control gives unlimited opportunities for railways. The current paper aims to explore ins and outs of positive train control.

The Issue of Positive Train Control (PTC)

The basic idea of PTC is simple: it has to track location of the train, adjust to the speed limits, and take into account other factors. The system requires positioning technology, wireless communications, data analysis, and automated control. PTC is not just a single technology, but also an integrated programmable system, which uses special travel repeaters associated with computers on locomotives (Cook, 2016). When the train passes a transponder, it switches the on-board radio to the desired channel to obtain relevant information about speed limits and road conditions. The system sends a warning to the operator to accelerate the train if the driver does not respond. PTC also offers to stop the train if there is an erroneous acceleration, which can lead to a collision with another train. Recently, the equipment has been supplemented with a system storing information, which can take advantage of investigators in case of an accident. For example, if the train with PTC stops, installed video cameras allow seeing the reason for the stop.

The PTC system monitors locomotives by differential GPS receivers based on satellite signals. Data are transferred to the main control center where dispatchers monitor factors such as the condition of the track, weather, and arrival time. Instructions and information are transmitted to each locomotive through radio waves. The PTC system requires constant and precise tracking of the location of each train that needs a detailed version of the GPS system. Railway workers rely on this system, which utilizes ground stations besides the usual set of satellites. Such a structure can provide better accuracy in measuring the speed. Today, 224 thousand kilometers of American railways transport about 42 percent of all goods, which compounds 8 billion ton-kilometers per day (Bibel, 2012). Transporting goods by rail requires three times less fuel than delivery via truck. Within the last few years, in terms of transport, railroad repeatedly beats its own record. In the coming years, more radical changes are expected mainly in the field of energy saving. Therefore, railways have won all possible competitors.
PTC is not based on the existing technology; instead, it is built from the ground up, starting with the adoption of the law in 2008, a year after Apple introduced iPhone (Mann, 2013).

Since then, these entire high-speed mobile data services infrastructure has changed the way of life, but PTC is not affected. Unfortunately, this strategy appears to be not successful because it seems not to be flawed or verified (Mann, 2013). Wabtec, a shortened version of Westinghouse Air Brake Technologies, is responsible for the development of PTC. As for features, complexity of PTC can be compared to a Google project aimed at building an autonomous vehicle. However, the car should be maneuverable; it must recognize and go around other cars, pedestrians, bicycles, and everything else that occurs on the road. Currently, Google cars have passed 1 million miles off-line and they have not been in any accident through their own fault. On the contrary, trains go on rails and there is little reason to equip the system of a self-drive train to go around obstacles. The train can only do two things: accelerate or stop.

The Historical Data of PTC

In 2008, the head-on collision of a commuter train of a Metrolink company on the Union Pacific road in California took the lives of 25 people (Mann, 2013). As a result, the US government tasked the railroad industry with transferring all network lines with the mixed traffic of freight and passenger trains and transportation of dangerous goods to the positive train control system. Actually, this issue had been analyzed during the last thirty years, evaluating various progressive move-management systems. Consequently, in 2008 the US Congress decided to legally complete the process of transfer to positive train control before the end of 2015 (Cook, 2016). However, the GAO report shows that the law should be amended.

The mentioned-above accident was extraordinary for the railway sector where the level of security was traditionally high. However, it was the impetus for actions for the US Congress and the Federal Railway Administration. Unexpectedly, railway companies, suppliers, and other organizations that were associated with the development of PTC experienced political pressure. The FRA that was bearing responsibility for the safety of movement also appeared to be under pressure.

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The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report according to which 20 of 29 American railroads could complete the installation of positive train control (PTC) with a delay of 1-5 years (Bibel, 2012). The regulator found that the process control of the Federal Railway Administration (FRA) was not enough to keep track of the progress of each individual railway. The GAO also estimated that freight and commuter railroads still faced serious problems in the implementation of PTC implementation. As a result, the Court of Auditors recommended the FRA to develop a plan that would present how the agency would penalize railways accountable for late implementation of the PTC. Among other things, the plan should involve collection of additional information on the progress of the task. In conclusion, the GAO noted that the US Department of Transportation agreed with these recommendations.

Since the accident of the Corporation Amtrak train near Philadelphia, scientists introduced the PTC technology that could avert such catastrophes. In fact, this system is cleverly programmed, but it is difficult to manage. The PTC system costs the railway industry more than 9 billion dollars (Tognotti, 2015). It was one of the major reason why its implementation was delayed first until 2015 and then the industry insisted on the extension until 2020 (Tognotti, 2015). By this time, probably, the app on the iPhone can be applicable to the train. The adopted law has multiple questions from the business community because there is no order of distribution, i.e. the coherence of costs between private freight railways and state administrations and the level of extent of federal funding sources. Consequently, the widespread introduction of PTC appears to be a political and normative problem rather than a technical one.

The Current Position of the US Railroad Industry

Nowadays, railways have been experiencing a boom due to changes in technology growth of prices for diesel fuel, and improvement of the supply rate. As a result, the increasing amount of cargo moves from highways to railways. In the USA, today the train takes only one gallon of fuel to carry a ton of goods over a distance of 500 miles (Mann, 2013). For example, the number of goods on the Union Pacific increased from 133,000 to 180,000 tons in 2009 (Tognotti, 2015). The industry that has recently seemed to be an outsider today impresses with huge numbers. Thus, its revenue has grown by 19 percent since 2009 and 10,000 new jobs have been created in railway companies and related industries (Tognotti, 2015). The Federal Railroad Administration predicts that by 2035 the volume transported by the US railways freight will grow by 22 percent (Cook, 2016). Today, thousands of the most modern locomotives operate on the American railroads that are much more economical and less polluting than the ones before.

However, most importantly, there is a boom in the industry, which takes nothing from taxpayers. This also applies to the annual expenditure of $20 billion on infrastructure, including $3 billion spent on a strong binding program aimed at improving security, which is known as the Train Control System (Cook, 2016). The new PTC system has led to revolutionary changes in freight transport as it allows railways to determine location of the locomotive to within yards. Consequently, American railways regain the status of a major traffic artery of the United States.

The Purpose of Positive Train Control

The purpose of positive train control is to stop a train automatically to prevent an accident because of human error (Wolmar, 2012). In particular, PTC is designed to prevent derailments happening because of excessive speed, train-to-train collisions,; a train’s movement of a train via a track switch left in the opposite position, and unauthorized entry into an area where renovations are taking place. The Rail Safety Improvement Act that was adopted in 2008 initially targeted Class I freight railroads and passenger railroads to install the rail safety control by 2015 (Cook, 2016). However, in October of 2015 the deadline was postponed to the end of 2020 (Cook, 2016). The necessity of these changes was determined by required testing of railroads that needed the statutory mandate.

A PTC system serves to determine precise direction, location, and speed; control train operators know how to respond to the warning and how the system informs them about potential problems. For instance, if a train operator cannot slow down or begin stopping before a speed-restricted area, the PTC system will help stop automatically by applying the brakes. This system incorporates highly complex technologies that help analyze different variables necessary for train operations. Thus, the PTC system should take into account numerous factors such as speed, length, and weight of the train, terrain, empty and loaded train cars, the number of locomotives and their distribution, as well as other factors. Moreover, the system considers all the above-mentioned variables automatically during a safety stop of the train.

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The literature reveals that PTC is a unique system that has never been tested on railroads in other countries (Bibel, 2012). Therefore, its development and implementation are rather challenging processes that require the following standards. First, it was decided to install PTC technology on about 18,500 locomotives (Cook, 2016). PTC development and implementation constitute an unprecedented technological challenge on a scale that has never been attempted on railroads anywhere in the world. In accordance with PTC, this new technology shall be installed on 23,000 locomotives that require 36,000 cartons for signaling and 20,000 transmission antennas (Wolmar, 2012).

Challenges of the Positive Train Control Installation

Although the Association of American Railroads (AAR) calls upon the FRA to strictly follow the Congress act relating to the PTC system, it has reported that the expansion of the landfill deployed outside the system identified by Congress would require hundreds of millions of additional dollars to increase costs of railways if they realized programs at their own expense (Tognotti, 2015). The AAR also points out that new technology such as locomotive signalization, which can be applied instead of PTC, has already been used in North America. They solve most issues on the improved security, but with significantly lower cost. Many experts suppose that American railroads are rather safe and effective and excessive costs will non-justifiably undermine the ability of the industry comply clients’ needs (Bibel, 2012). In this concern, some elements of the FRA regulations pose relative complex technical tasks and financial risks to the industry. Therefore, the AAR considers the following suggestions of the FRA to be excessive, including, for instance, the obligatory presence of two displays in the driver’s cab and the permission for the second and third classes railroads to exploit locomotives not equipped with the PTC system on the lines equipped with this technology.

Thus, the presence of two displays in the driver’s cab can cost the industry about 200 million dollars, but it does not improve safety. In other words, the quality of work of a locomotive driver does not depend on the second display because it does not determine the responsibility for a driver’s operations. Furthermore, despite the ongoing discussion, the US railroad industry has been vigorously moving on the pathway of introducing and adapting PTC. According to Cook (2016), the four largest freight railroads such as Norfolk Southern (NS), Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF), CSX Transportation (CSXT), and Union Pacific (UP) have been actively working in the direction based on the system of Electronic Train Management (ETMS).

From the political and regulatory perspectives, it should be mentioned that the main subject of contradictions concerns not only the economically justified system of PTC, but also the possibility of interoperability by creating a platform that supports the work of any railway with any existing alarm system and train control (Tognotti, 2015). This complex problem should be solved through the consolidation of the FRA’s resources based on the telecommunications funds. It has not been easy to reach this position since PTC has offered different architectures: from large and complex centralized systems to application needed only to improve the existing methods for managing the operational activities such as oral transmission of train orders.

PTC Systems Deployed in the USA

Currently, eleven projects of various PTC systems are at different stages of implementation and they occupy nine iron roads on the territory of twenty-one states (Mann, 2013). The total length of the trial plots exceeds 3,000 routes miles on eight railroads (Bibel, 2012). All systems aim to solve the following problem: avoidance of collisions, compliance with permanent and temporal speed limits, and maintenance of railroad works. The eleven systems that are deployed are as follows: (1) Incremental Train Control System (ITCS); (2) Advanced Civil Speed Enforcement System (ACSES); (3) Communications-Based Train Management; (CBTM) (4) ETMS Version 2; (5) Electronic Train Management System (ETMS); (6) Vital Train Management System (VTMS); (7) ETMS METRA Configuration; (8) Collision Avoidance System (CAS); (9) Train Sentinel (TS); (10) Optimized Train Control (OTC); and (11) North American Joint Positive Train Control System (NAJPTCS) (Tognotti, 2015). Thus, the ASCES is installed and operates on 240 route miles between Massachusetts, Boston, and Washington, which is the fastest US passenger service with speed up to about 150 miles per hour.

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Amtrac also operates the mentioned-above ITCS system to support passenger operations between Kalamazoo, MI, and Niles with MI operating on 74 route miles (Tognotti, 2015). Admittedly, the ITCS is a unique PTC system since it includes an advanced high-speed crossing warning system activation based on the radio communication. Moreover, it enforces and imposes speed restrictions. Furthermore, ETMS Version 1 has started deployment on 35 of its subdivisions. In fact, it was created in response to numerous fatal accidents resulting from excessive train speed. The implementation of this system aims to support passengers as opposed to operations and frights. Currently, the Alaska Railroad undertakes installation of PTC on 151 miles of its track designed to be a full PTC system (Cook, 2016). Admittedly, the Ohio Central Railroad System uses the Train Sentinel version of PTC system, using different software and hardware implementations. This system enforces speed restrictions, movement authority, and on-track equipment.

The transport authority of New York and New Jersey PATH is engaged in the PTC system design based on CBTM (CSXT) for underground lines of Trans-Hudson River Commuter. Alaska Railroad performs a multi-stage program implementation of PTC for transmission communication channels via Collision Avoidance System (CAS). The company Amtrak uses the ACSES system in the northeastern corridor between Boston and Washington. It complements the existing signal system in the full volume, providing PTC functions for trains moving at a velocity of up to 240 km / h (Cook, 2016).

Furthermore, the FRA, Amtrak, and the authorities of Michigan have adopted an Incremental Train Control System (ITCS) between Chicago and Detroit, which monitors the state of the system alert at crossings between the locomotive and level crossing equipment. It also assigns appropriate speed limitation and controls its implementation. The railroad UP expands the use of a fault-tolerant modification of ETMC, V-TMS known as Vital Train Management System (Cook, 2016). The railroad NS has implemented another modification of ETMC called Optimized Trail Control (OTC), which is integrated into the new system Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD). Such systems also work at Alaska Railroad and in South Carolina. Ohio Central Railroad System (OCRS) continues researching PTC Train Sentinel system aimed at securing lines not equipped with the average alarm devices.

Security and Dependability of Train Control System

PTC offers improved traditional security requirements, including performance management, accounting management, configuration management, and fault management (Cook, 2016). The system provides rapid data acquisition on the location of locomotives and wagons at any time, allowing determining not only the location of trains, but also their state. Resulting operational information is used in solving management problems, analysis, accounting, mutual settlements for the use of wagons, and customer information. Thus, performance management helps measure numerous aspects of systems performance, using different types of data collection. The first type includes necessary data to analyze service reliability and its degree. The second type is oriented at optimizing monitored resources. In order to protect and manage data, the system needs its own security that is based on significant financial and technical efforts. According to Mann (2013), the purpose of performance management is to prevent legitimate attacks and false positives.

Accounting, fault, and security management offer measures of network behavior with the aim to assess the use of the individual PT system (Cook, 2016). It also provides protection against non-malicious attacks that can affect PTC network operations. The goal of this management is to notify, detect, log, and fix network problems. It is used to solve security issues determining whether they are potential system problems. Due to potential misuses of the PTC system, some additional security mechanisms should be included in various designs. Furthermore, configuration management studies and tracks system software and hardware configuration and membership. It helps prevent substitution, installation, and use of non-authorized software or hardware in the network of PTC devices. Thus, positive train control systems are designed with the aim of decreasing railway accidents by electronically enforcing speed restrictions, inter-train separation, and other requirements.

New Opportunities Offered by the PTC System

Implementation of positive train control allows this system to distribute the flow of information between train crews and dispatchers. Although most lines still use voice communication by asking dispatchers for the departure of the train, they tend to transfer to a new PTC system, which provides instant updating of information on the movement on the roads, warnings about breakdowns rail, and expected ahead road sign warnings. The system can even automatically stop the train if its crew is incapable or has even disappeared. Currently, Siemens sets the combination of the PTC system, motion planner, central management, and automated security systems all around the New York City Subway. General Electric has implemented the PTC system on the Amtrak lines in the Midwest. Surprisingly, the PTC system appears to be cheaper than the traditional signal system (Mann, 2013). Only in those cases when the railway is built from scratch, it requires substantial costs. According to the Association of American Railroads, upgrade paths nationwide will result in a cost of 2 to 10 billion dollars (Cook, 2016). New PTC systems are able to control operations on American railroads and maintain their security.

Today, the length of American railroads is more than 124,270 miles with 180,000 of personnel (Mann, 2013). Thus, the share of rail transport in the turnover ranges within 40-45 percent (Mann, 2013). Besides the expenditure on PTC, the US government will give a loan of 2.45 billion dollars to the railways operator Amtrak to buy new trains, better tracks, and platforms (Bibel, 2012). The Ministry of Transport has stated that it is the largest loan in the history of its existence. Improvements will concern the railway network in the northeastern part of the United States. For example, the company plans to develop high-speed railways between Washington and Boston. Currently, the US railway system lags behind other developed countries, notably in the sector of high-speed roads. Therefore, Amtrak plans to start a movement of new trains in 2021. The Northeastern US Corridor is one of the busiest in the country. According to Amtrak, in 2015 it took advantage of a record number of passengers amounting to 11.7 million people (Cook, 2016). The PTC system gives more opportunities to the railways and their clients.

The railroad industry is unique among American modes of transport because the network is primarily financed through private sources and does not depend on the money of taxpayers. There is nothing more important than the implementation of safety tools like PTC and today American railroads are as safe as never before. In 2015, the industry recorded the highest level of the railway safety, in particular, during last two decades, while cases of accidents on US railways decreased by 80 percent (Cook, 2016). To meet changing market conditions, the industry invests billions of dollars into security technologies, new intermodal software, and hardware.


The positive train control system is designed with the aim of decreasing railway accidents by electronically enforcing speed restrictions, inter-train separation, and other requirements. This system has been developed with partner technologies to prevent train collisions, derailments, and other train accidents related to human error. The PTC system integrates onboard, travel, signaling, and dispatching systems. Positive train control is able to determine location and speed of the train and strengthen security measures taken by the operator. If the system requirements are ignored or an operator cannot implement them, PTC automatically switches breaks to slow down the train to the recommended speed or a complete stop. The US railroad industry also relies on the infrastructure that can enhance safety of passengers and improve effectiveness of communication, transport, mobile devices, GPS tracking system, sensors, and data. This digital system will allow machinists in real time to receive and analyze the data streams to adjust processes and instant reaction to incidents on the railroads. To support the realization of this project, the government gives the industry a loan to make their plans come true. In spite of its outs, PTC has more ins since its implementation has allowed to reduce accidents during the last decades.

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