Using Technology to Enhance Rail Safety

Like the rest of the nation, we are deeply saddened by this particular week’s fatal Amtrak derailment within Philadelphia. We send our condolences to the families of those who lost their loved ones and our gratitude to the initial responders for their efforts.

As National Transportation Safety Board investigators seek answers to queries about the crash, some questions regarding Positive Train Control (PTC) were raised. I thought it would be helpful to clarify what it is and give an overview of the FCC’s role in its implementation.

PTC systems are intended to reduce the risk of rail accidents caused by human mistake, such as derailments caused by excessive acceleration. PTC technology is designed to enable real-time information sharing between trains, rail wayside devices, and control centers, which, for example , would notify the train engineer about dangerous speeds. If an engineer does not decrease speeds to a safe level, the PTC system is designed to slow it down automatically to a safe degree.

In 2008, Our elected representatives passed a law requiring Amtrak and other commuter and freight railroads to deploy interoperable PTC techniques by December 31, 2015, yet did not designate spectrum, a finite resource, for PTC use or even make funds available for railroads to acquire access to spectrum.

The Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration has primary authority to make sure PTC systems are activated and work properly. As the nation’s marketing communications agency, the FCC helps assist in spectrum acquisition by freight and commuter trains. We also handle the mandatory historic preservation and environment reviews of PTC system facilities.

The railroads are seeking commercial spectrum to deploy PTC, which – by law – must be acquired at auction or through third parties. Since Congress transferred the law in 2008 requiring PTC, the FCC has been working closely with railroads and Amtrak to distinguish available spectrum on the secondary market and to approve transactions quickly.

We continue to be actively involved in helping freight and commuter teaches such as Amtrak acquire spectrum. Actually the FCC approved Amtrak’s app for spectrum for the Washington M. C. to New York corridor right after an expedited review and just two days after Amtrak submitted a final variation to the agency in March 2015.

Rail safety is really a top FCC priority. Be assured that the FCC will continue to work closely with the nation’s railroads to enable the rapid application of Positive Train Control.


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