Train Safety System Slated for San Diego County

A computer system approved by Congress to warn or stop a train from hazardous situations has been delayed for years, but the system could be installed here next year.

The day after a tragic train accident in Washington, investigators confirmed that a system designed to prevent train accidents was not being used by the Amtrak train that derailed. 

According to the Federal Railroad Administration, Positive Train Control, or PTC, is an automated computer system approved by Congress in 2008. Using Wi-Fi, GPS and radio transmissions, the system can warn a train’s engineer of dangers ahead, or even stop the train if it detects hazards like speeding or a predicted collision with another train. 

The PTC system was supposed to be installed nation-wide in 2015, but lack of funding caused repeated delays. Congress is now requiring railroads and train operators to have the system in place by December 31, 2018. 

In March, the Federal Railroad Administration reported the automated safety technology had been completed on 16-percent of tracks for freight railroads and just 24-percent of passenger railroad lines by the end of 2016.  

In San Diego County, the PTC system has not been certified by the Federal Railroad Administration but is being tested on some passenger trains. The North County Transit District said the PTC system was installed December 16 on its Coaster passenger trains. 

In an email, Kimy Wall, a spokesperson for North County Transit District, said the agency was one of the early agencies to use the PTC system. Wall said the agency is on track for meeting the 2018 federal deadline and is working with other railroad tenants, including Amtrak, to have the PTC system in full operation next year. 

Currently, the North County Transit District said the PTC mandate does not apply to the Sprinter hybrid rail from Oceanside to Escondido but in an email, Wall said the agency is “working toward a plan to make the Escondido (rail line) ‘PTC-ready’ in the future.” 

To read more about the North County Transit District’s implementation of the PTC system, click here

BNSF, an operator of freight trains in San Diego County told NBC 7 that 96-percent of their locomotives are equipped with the PTC system. 

To read more about BNSF’s progress with the PTC system, click here.  

NBC 7 asked Amtrak officials if the PTC system has been implemented on their trains, but Amtrak has not responded. 

The Federal Railroad Administration said some railroads will be eligible for a deadline extension if key implementation milestones for the PTC system are met in 2018.

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