Originally published on TrackTalk [December 2015]
The findings in a report released by the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) on September 16 that most US railroads will not install Positive Train Control (PTC) by the federally-mandated deadline of December 31 2015 was not a big surprise. The delays have been well-documented and new legislation is now expected to extend the deadline to provide railroads with the one to five years the GAO says they need to complete full installation.
By mid 2015 it was estimated that only 14,300 out of 22,000 locomotives were partially equipped with PTC, and 19,000 out of the 32,600 wayside interface units (WIU), and 1800 of the 4000 base station radios required had been deployed since the federal government ordered the adoption of PTC on lines carrying hazardous materials or passengers in 2008.
Despite some politicians now questioning the programme, deploying PTC is the right thing for the US railroad industry, particularly following recent high-profile accidents. It will prevent train-to-train collisions, derailments caused by excessive speed, unauthorised incursions on track where maintenance is taking place and the movement of a train through a switch left in the wrong position. Its interoperability features are also a critical element of an efficient and successful rail network.
The PTC mandate must then be viewed as an opportunity for railroads. However, given the huge investments involved, it is essential that the right telecoms infrastructure is in place to deliver the benefits they expect and need to remain competitive.
As of one of the US’ largest Class 1 railroads with a 34,600km network, Norfolk Southern (NS) is taking the lead on PTC deployment by upgrading its aging communications network to IP/MPLS.
“Positive train control is one of the many drivers that led us to a new IP/MPLS communications network,” says Richard Carter, NS IT manager. “The ability to separate and prioritise traffic for train control allows use of the same network to handle critical and non-critical traffic. Our new network is positioned for current and future service requirements.”
IP/MPLS is ideally suited to support PTC because it offers a single converged infrastructure with high network availability and resiliency through native security services such as non-stop routing (NSR), non-stop services (NSS), link aggregation group (LAG) and fast reroute (FRR). Its flexible design can also meet any network topology while providing high performance and resilience.
NS selected Alcatel-Lucent to deploy its IP/MPLS communications network in 2010, which is now operational across 22 states and features more than 225 7750 and 7705 Service Access Routers and Integrated Access Devices as well as microwave and copper ADSL+. Alcatel-Lucent will also deliver a microwave backhaul in the next four-five years providing NS with improved coverage in cities and at ports, and during non line-of-sight operations.
IP/MPLS is already offering NS safer and more efficient operations. And with the network designed to scale easily, it is ready to support PTC now, and next-generation IP-based applications in the future.
* PTC = Positive Train Control – the system for monitoring and controlling train movements in North America.