Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
American Public Transportation Association

 Positive Train Control (PTC)

Commuter Rail Industry is 100% Committed to PTC
With safety as our number one priority, the commuter rail industry is 100% committed to implementing Positive Train Control, also known as PTC.  

This complex communications technology will provide a critical safety overlay on top of already safe commuter rail. 

Commuter Rail's Safety Record
Traveling by commuter and intercity rail​ is 18 times safe​r than traveling by automobile.

(click here​​​​ to enlarge image) 

(click here​ to enlarge image) 

What is Positive Train Control (PTC)?
PTC is an unparalleled technological challenge on a scale that has never been attempted by railroads anywhere in the world.

PTC is a complex, innovative technology that is designed to make commuter rail even safer. PTC activates a series of sensors installed on railcar equipment and track that uses a combination of wireless internet, GPS, and encrypted radio transmissions to report in real-time the speed and location data to monitoring systems. These systems track the movement of trains and, if an unsafe situation occurs, PTC will automatically trigger a train’s braking system to prevent an accident. PTC will prevent train-to-train collisions and derailments caused by speed. However, PTC will not prevent grade-crossing collisions and trespasser fatalities.  

What is PTC.JPG 
 (click here​​ to enlarge image) 

Unparalleled Technological Challenge
PTC isn't off-the-shelf technology that is readily available to buy.  Consequently, it has required significant innovation to address technical challenges. The interconnected array of systems needed to be developed, customized, and installed according to its use in each and every system. Commuter rail operators are working tirelessly to achieve critical milestones.

Congressional Mandate
In 2008, Congress passed the Rail Safety Improvement Act (RSIA) that required all commuter and freight railroads to implement PTC. In October 2015, the statutory deadline for PTC installation was extended to the end of 2018, with further extensions available up to the end of 2020 (if certain milestones are met) to allow time for railroads to adequately test their systems.  

The required milestones, as defined in 49 U.S.C. 20157(a)(3)(B), are:
  • Install all PTC hardware (wayside and onboard equipment);
  • Acquire all necessary spectrum for PTC implementation; 
  • Complete all employee training; 
  • Initiate testing on at least one territory subject to the PTC requirement (or other criteria); and 
  • Submit a plan and schedule to the Secretary of Transportation for implementing a PTC system.
Overcoming Financial and Technical Challenges
The commuter rail industry has faced significant financial constraints and technical challenges in implementing PTC.

Total cost: PTC will cost an estimated $4.1 billion to implement and up to $130 million a year in maintenance and operation costs.  

Funding available: Since Congress mandated PTC in 2008, the federal government has awarded $272 million in PTC grants, $197 million of which was awarded just over a year ago, at the end of May 2017.  In May 2018, the Federal Railroad Administration made another $260 million available for PTC, which has not been awarded yet. At a time when the national state-of-good repair backlog stands at an estimated $90 billion, commuter railroads had to divert funds from other critical infrastructure and safety priorities. 

Limited contractors: There is a limited number of contractors with the expertise to install PTC on both commuter rail and freight railroads. Both required these suppliers at the same time, causing delays in installation.  

Acquiring spectrum: PTC requires radio spectrum to transmit data between trains and communications towers (just like the spectrum needed to work everything wireless, from your garage door opener to your cell phone). Early on, a major hurdle was gaining access to the necessary spectrum.  

Time to install: PTC must be installed and tested while simultaneously continuing to provide safe, reliable service for commuters who took 501 million trips in 2017 alone. 

Interoperability: Many railroads run on tracks that they own or are hosted by freight railroads, or a combination of both. Critical to the successful implementation of PTC is making sure that all trains, tracks and the back-office of each railroad communicate with one another. 
Copyright © 2018 American Public Transportation Association
1300 I Street NW
Suite 1200 East
Washington, DC 20005
Telephone (202) 496-4800 | Fax (202) 496-4324
Logo Usage | Staff Intranet