Metrolink puts anti-collision technology into service

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A train equipped with PTC technology leaves Union Station on Thursday afternoon bound for Orange County. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

A Metrolink media event just wrapped at Union Station to announce that Positive Train Control — a technology used to prevent trains colliding — will start being used on some of the commuter’s railroad trains in Southern California.

Here is the news release from Metrolink:

LOS ANGELES – Senator Dianne Feinstein and Congressman Adam Schiff today joined other dignitaries at Los Angeles Union Station as Metrolink launched Positive Train Control (PTC) in revenue service demonstration (RSD) under the authority of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railroad. Other dignitaries in attendance included California State Transportation Agency Deputy Secretary Chad Edison, California High Speed Rail Authority CEO Jeff Morales, Metrolink Board Chair Pat Morris and former Metrolink Board Chair Richard Katz, along with representatives from the Federal Rail Administration (FRA) and the BNSF.

“I have spent my entire life around the rail, but this is unequivocally the most instrumental piece of technology ever implemented for train safety,” said Morris, who worked his way through Stanford Law School at the ATSF Railway. “PTC will undoubtedly make Metrolink the safest commuter rail system in the country; the invaluable partnership between Metrolink and the BNSF has made today a reality.”

PTC is one of the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) top ten most wanted transportation safety improvements.  It involves a GPS-based technology capable of preventing train-to-train collisions, over-speed derailments, unauthorized incursion into work zones and train movement through switches left in the wrong position. PTC monitors and, if necessary, controls train movement in the event of human error. PTC may also bring trains to a safe stop in the event of a natural disaster.

Metrolink now has the ability to implement PTC on specific trains. The FRA has authorized Metrolink to operate PTC RSD on BNSF territory using Wabtec’s  Interoperable Electronic Train Management System (I-ETMS)®. Wabtec’s I-ETMS® PTC System was selected by the four Class One freight railroads and by Amtrak outside of the northeast corridor as well as Metra and Coaster. Metrolink’s PTC service on BNSF track will be implemented on select trains on the Metrolink 91 Line (between Riverside-Downtown and just east of LA Union Station), Orange County Line (between Fullerton and just east of LA Union Station) and Inland Empire-Orange County Line (between San Bernardino and just east of Anaheim Canyon). PTC capability on Metrolink territory is expected to be available later this year, while the entire service area is anticipated to be complete well before the Rail Safety Improvement Act (RSIA) mandate of December 2015.

Today, Metrolink operated PTC RSD on Orange County Line train 686, while the first revenue service train to offer the advanced technology was 91 Line train 700 on Monday morning. Metrolink will implement additional trains into PTC RSD in the coming weeks and months.

As part of its 512-mile system, Metrolink also operates on track owned and dispatched by the Union Pacific Railroad (UP) and the North County Transportation District (NCTD). Metrolink, BNSF, UP and NCTD, along with Amtrak trains, will all have to install and implement an interoperable system for PTC to be complete in the region.

The RSIA became law in 2008 after a contractor engineer operating a Metrolink train failed  to stop at a red signal just north of the Metrolink Chatsworth Station. This action led to a head-on collision with a freight train resulting in 25 passenger deaths and more than 130 injuries.

“Commuters across the country deserve the safest trains and routes possible, and the adoption of Positive Train Control (PTC) by Metrolink will make Los Angeles one of the first in the nation to adopt this life-saving technology,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), sponsor of the Rail Collision Prevention Act, which required implementation of Positive Train Control on passenger trains. “With human errors accounting for forty percent of all rail accidents, PTC will save lives and the rest of the country needs to adopt these systems as soon as possible.”

The estimated cost for developing, installing and deploying PTC on the Metrolink system including the expansion of the communication network to support the PTC System is $216.3 million. Metrolink secured full funding from local, state and federal sources with the funding split at 50%, 42%, 9% respectively. Nearly 30 grants were secured.

Metrolink’s PTC program calls for installing a back-office system (BOS), replacing the current computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system, installing on-board PTC equipment on 57 cab cars and 52 locomotives, installing systems to stop a train at 476 wayside signals, and implementing a six-county specialized communication network to link the wayside signals, trains and a new 24,000 square foot security enhanced  building to house the command and control equipment and personnel to dispatch the railroad at all times.   The Metrolink Operations Center (MOC) is the dispatching hub for rail providers in Southern California, including other passenger and freight carriers, making it one of the nation’s busiest and most complex rail networks.

For additional details on Metrolink, please visit www.metrolinktrains.com .

ABOUT METROLINK (www.metrolinktrains.com)

Metrolink is Southern California’s regional commuter rail service in its 21st year of operation. The Southern California Regional Rail Authority (SCRRA), a joint powers authority made up of an 11-member board representing the transportation commissions of Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties, governs the service. Metrolink operates over seven routes through a six-county, 512 route-mile network. Metrolink is the third largest commuter rail agency in the United States based on directional route miles and the eighth largest based on annual ridership.

7 replies

  1. When fully implemented throughout Metrolink’s service area, will Amtrak and Metrolink trains using those tracks be allowed to travel at higher speeds in certain areas?

    • Hi Al;

      I don’t believe speed limits and PTC are linked. Speed limits for commuter rail are, as I understand it, linked to grade crossings, single track vs double track and other track conditions (turn radius, etc)

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  2. PTC is one factor governing speed limits, but only one of many. And I definitely recall, from my first visit to Mystic, CT, feeling the turbulence from a passing Acela (WAY more than the usual 79 MPH for most of the country!) on the Mystic station platform, and I vaguely recall (and the satellite view on Google Maps confirms) that I was within 200 feet of a grade crossing at the time the Acela’s turbulence practically spun me around, so a grade crossing does not, by itself, rule out higher speed limits.