Fact Sheet: Positive Train Control Implementation

April 30, 2020

The Positive Train Control Enforcement and Implementation Act of 2015 requires all railroads subject to the statutory deadline to fully implement positive train control (PTC) by December 31, 2020.[1]  PTC is an advanced technology designed to stop or slow a train before certain accidents occur, such as accidents caused by excessive speeds or train-on-train collisions. 

Statutorily, railroads were required to implement PTC by December 31, 2018, but were able to apply for an extension of up to 24 months if they met critical milestones, such as installing locomotive and wayside hardware, conducting testing, and training employees.  As of December 31, 2018, all railroads required to implement PTC either self-reported that they had fully implemented PTC on their required main lines or met the statutory criteria required to qualify for an extension until December 31, 2020. 

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is responsible for overseeing PTC implementation.  Below is information on railroads’ progress in meeting the final deadline.  This information is based on the latest data available as of the date of this fact sheet.

PTC Implementation Status

According to the most recently released FRA data, as of December 31, 2019, freight railroads were operating PTC on over 98 percent of required track, and commuter railroads had almost 55 percent of their required route miles operating with PTC.  Railroads had achieved interoperability—a key requirement of final PTC implementation to enable certain communications between host and tenant railroads—on 38 percent of the total host-tenant relationships identified by FRA.  For additional information, see FRA’s published Q4 2019 data.

Who’s At-Risk?

Based on Q4 2019 data, FRA identified eight railroads as “at-risk” of not fully implementing a PTC system by the December 31, 2020, deadline.[2]  The “at-risk” assessment considers the (1) percentage of a railroad’s mandated route miles currently governed by a PTC system, (2) any unresolved technical issues in implementing a compliant PTC system, (3) the percentage of a host railroad’s tenant railroads that have achieved interoperability, and (4) a host railroad’s expected date to submit its PTC Safety Plan to FRA. 

The “at-risk” railroads identified based on Q4 2019 data include:

  • Alaska Railroad
  • Belt Railway Company of Chicago
  • Florida East Coast Railway
  • Kansas City Terminal Railway
  • New Jersey Transit
  • New Mexico Rail Runner Express
  • Metra
  • TEXRail

GAO Report April 30, 2020 

GAO released a new PTC review on April 30, 2020, Positive Train Control: Railroads Generally Made Progress, but Several Must Meet Compressed Schedules to Meet Implementation Date.  In reviewing railroads’ progress toward meeting the implementation deadline, GAO found that most railroads were in the final two stages of PTC implementation with more than three-quarters of railroads in revenue service demonstration or working to achieve interoperability.  

According to GAO’s report, railroads have addressed some of their prior PTC implementation challenges, but issues with software and availability of vendor expertise and resources remain.  GAO found that that some challenges have caused railroads to compress their implementation schedules in order to meet the final deadline and some railroads have started to develop contingency plans, such as suspending certain rail operations, in the event that they do not meet the implementation deadline.  However, GAO reported that FRA, vendors, associations, and railroads they interviewed were generally optimistic that railroads will be able to overcome the challenges and achieve full PTC implementation by December 31, 2020.  

In light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and other unforeseen circumstances, GAO found that some railroads have been able to use staff and track availability resulting from reduced operations and ridership to make progress on PTC implementation and testing.  Others have raised concerns about potential challenges arising due to the pandemic.

Other Committee Oversight

July 31, 2019 Hearing - Next Steps for Positive Train Control Implementation

October 3, 2018 Hearing - Implementation of Positive Train Control

March, 1, 2018 Hearing - Implementation of Positive Train Control

GAO report - Positive Train Control: As Implementation Progresses, Focus Turns to the Complexities of Achieving System Interoperability

GAO report - Positive Train Control: Most Passenger Railroads Expect to Request an Extension, and Substantial Work Remains beyond 2018

GAO report - Positive Train Control: Many Commuter Railroads Still Have Significant Additional Implementation Work and Opportunities Exist to Provide Federal Assistance

[1] The Positive Train Control Enforcement and Implementation Act of 2015, Pub. L. No. 114-73, § 1302, 129 Stat. 568, 576-582 (2015), codified at 49 U.S.C. § 20157.

[2] Federal Railroad Administration, “Railroads at Risk of Not Fully Implementing a PTC System by the Statutory Deadline,” available at https://explore.dot.gov/t/FRA/views/PTCImplementationStatusReport/AtRisk?iframeSizedToWindow=true&%3Aembed=y&%3AshowAppBanner=false&%3Adisplay_count=no&%3AshowVizHome=no.