The efforts of a two-person crew in East St. Paul, Minn., helped to save a wandering five-year-old girl and reunite her with her family.
Near midnight Saturday, Feb. 1, SMART Transportation Division Local 1293 member Jarrod Campbell and BLET member Angela Knutson were operating a Union Pacific train through East St. Paul when they spotted something unusual alongside the tracks.
The shape looked strange to them, so Knutson stopped the train, and Campbell grabbed his lantern and left the cab to investigate.
Walking back, he discovered a five-year-old girl wearing a light jacket. She wasn’t wearing a hat or mittens and her sneakers were filled with snow.
“I introduced myself to her,” Campbell said. “She said that her name was Zoey and that she was cold and wanted her mom.”
The conductor out of the Altoona, Wis., local picked Zoey up and asked her if she would want to come into the locomotive where it was warm so she could meet Angela.
“She gave me a big hug and said thank you,” Campbell said.
Campbell carried Zoey through the snow and they went into the cab. There Campbell and Knutson comforted her by wrapping her in Campbell’s coat, giving her a spare pair of Knutson’s socks, using hand warmers to stave off the early signs of hypothermia and keeping her calm until EMS crews could arrive.
She had been reported missing to police about 45 minutes to a half-hour before the crew found her, Campbell later learned. The temperature was about 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and he said there was still eight to 10 inches of snow on the ground there.
The combined efforts of both crewmembers saved the girl from a possibly life-threatening situation at a time when rail carriers are looking to cut the conductor position from the cab in favor of technologies such as Positive Train Control. The carriers and Federal Railroad Administration argue that no data exists proving that a two-person crew is any safer than a single-person crew.
Zoey’s family would probably differ on that.
“It’s just miraculous that we were able to see her or find her,” Campbell said. “It sure wasn’t Positive Train Control that stopped and saved this girl.”
Class I carrier Union Pacific announced Monday that it has completed implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC) on all federally mandated freight and passenger routes requiring the collision avoidance technology.
The carrier still must achieve full interoperability, that is, its PTC system must be able to successfully interact with those systems used by other carriers.
The carrier reports that 16 of 25 railroads it hosts are compliant, encompassing 85% of Union Pacific’s interoperable PTC train miles, and says that full interoperability in conjunction with the other carriers is expected by mid-2020.
PTC is designed to prevent:
Derailments caused by excessive speed;
Accidents that can occur if trains are routed down the incorrect track;
Unauthorized train movements on tracks undergoing maintenance
An update on the railroad industry’s implementation of positive train control (PTC) will be one of the major topics covered in the next meeting of the Rail Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC) scheduled 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Nov. 26, according to a notice published in the Federal Register.
The meeting will be at the National Association of Home Builders, 1201 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20005. Representatives from 29 member organizations, including SMART TD, will convene at the meeting, which is open to the public on a first-come, first-served basis.
The agenda also will include remarks from FRA Administrator Ron Batory and committee reports from the Working Groups for Tourist and Historic Railroads; Track Standards; Passenger Safety; Part 225 Accident Reporting; Train Dispatcher Certification; and Signal Employees Certification and is subject to change, the Federal Register notice stated.
RSAC is a federal advisory committee to the FRA intended to develop railroad safety regulations through a consensus process.
More information about RSAC and a finalized agenda for the meeting will be posted on the RSAC website at least a week in advance of the meeting.
In an interview with Trains Magazine’s Ralph Spielman, New Jersey Transit (NJT) President and CEO Kevin Corbett said that the passenger carrier has much progress to make in its implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC) in order to meet the deadline for full implementation.
The carrier is currently in the testing phase of its system, especially the software, Corbett said, but the deadline isn’t far away.
“As it gets closer to the deadline, it’s a little bit like the Y2K scare. On Jan. 1, 2021, what’s going to happen? Will it impact scheduling? Will there be less flexibility? You won’t be able necessarily have someone run from the back to the front air brake for a quick mechanical fix. The software will be dependable and will mold the schedule, but with it, you cannot cut corners inappropriately. A lot of the veterans would say they would know how to respond safely [but] the thing is now it all has to be reset; It’s all in the software,” Corbett told Spielman.
All U.S. carriers are required to achieve full PTC function by Dec. 31, 2020.
Corbett also discussed recent equipment acquisitions by the carrier and the status of the North Portal Bridge project.
To better understand and evaluate the use of certain technologies implemented by carriers, SMART Transportation Division is seeking information regarding the operation of the technologies such as Positive Train Control, Trip Optimizer/Leader and others.
In order for our organization to formulate a plan to protect members and the general public and to ensure the safety of the nation’s infrastructure, we are asking members to provide information when incidents or events occur that involve these technologies.
“By reporting these events, we can track these instances and find any trends that may be occurring with these technologies,” said Jared Cassity, alternate director — East for the SMART TD National Safety Team and Kentucky’s state legislative director.
Reports submitted through this form go to union safety leadership for collection. These reports are not a substitute for filling out a report to a carrier or to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).
One of two crew members of the CSX freight train that was struck by the Amtrak Silver Star on Feb. 4, 2018, recounted the accident in a segment for CBS’s “60 Minutes” program that was broadcast Sunday night.
SMART Transportation Division Local 30 member Michael Cella, 36, the conductor on the Amtrak train, and engineer Michael Kempf, a former TD member, were killed in the accident near Cayce, S.C., that also injured 100 passengers.
While the accident investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has not been finalized, a misaligned switch has been widely reported as the cause of the collision, which occurred in dark territory.
Engineer Mark James told “60 Minutes” that he has experienced PTSD ever since the accident.
“This is something I’ll never, ever get over,” he told correspondent Lesley Stahl.
The segment also detailed features of Positive Train Control (PTC) technology. Stahl was shown how PTC operates by a Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA) employee.
NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt, also interviewed in the segment, criticized the Federal Railroad Administration and industry for the slow implementation of PTC.
“The regulator needs to step up to the plate and do their job and regulate,” he said.
During a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation committee hearing on the implementation of positive train control (PTC) among U.S. railroads Oct. 3, an Amtrak executive said that the carrier plans to continue operating the Southwest Chief passenger route through at least the 2019 fiscal year.
Amtrak Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Scot Naparstek told U.S. Sen. Tom Udall (D) of New Mexico that the route, which various reports had said would get a 500-mile “bus bridge” from Dodge City, Kan., to Albuquerque, N.M., to avoid non-PTC trackage, would be operated as usual once the Dec. 31, 2018, PTC deadline passes.
“We plan on running the Southwest Chief as-is through fiscal year 2019. We are well aware of the Senate’s directive,” Naparstek said. “We await Congress’s dealing with the Southwest Chief during the (budget) conference as well as in the fiscal spending bill.”
The president of the Rail Passengers Association was pleased with the outcome.
“This is a huge win for our association, for passengers, and for the states that rely on the Southwest Chief,” said Rail Passengers Association President Jim Mathews. “It shows that advocacy works, and I want to thank every person who took part in our campaign in defense of the national network. Now, we need to take that energy and turn it towards the coming reauthorization where we can make a positive vision for passenger rail in the U.S.: fast and frequent trains, 21st century equipment, and on-time service that passengers can count on.”
The Southwest Chief runs daily from Chicago to Los Angeles.
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) announced Aug. 24 that it has awarded $203,698,298 in grant funding for the implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC) for 28 projects in 15 states. FRA also released a status update of PTC for the second quarter.
The funds are part of the $250 million that the FRA has available specifically for the implementation of PTC appropriated from the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018.
A Notice Of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) for the $250 million was published in May, and solicitations for the funds had to be received by July 2. The FRA expects to publish a second NOFO in the Federal Register for the remaining $46,301,702 available.
Click here to read the full press release from the FRA and to view a list of railroads receiving the grant money.
As for the state of PTC, 15 railroads have installed 100 percent of the PTC system hardware on their locomotives and their trackage, FRA said. BNSF and KCS are the only two Class I railroads listed as having 100 percent of their track segments installed with PTC while Union Pacific is listed as having 98 percent of installation completed. BNSF, Metrolink and Northstar Commuter Rail are all listed as having PTC in complete operation. FRA reports that 37,705 route miles or 65 percent of the approximately 58,000 route miles have sufficient revenue service demonstration or are in operation. (Revenue service demonstration is one of the criteria needed to qualify for an extension of the deadline.)
The second quarter has also seen a 25 percent drop in the number of “at-risk” railroads – FRA considers any railroad that installed less than 90 percent of its PTC system hardware as of June 30, 2018, to be at risk. There are currently nine at-risk railroads: New Mexico Rail Runner Express, Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority, New Jersey Transit, Altamont Corridor Express, MARC, Trinity Railway Express, TriRail, Caltrain and Florida’s SunRail. Of the nine deemed at risk, all but three (Altamont Corridor Express, New Jersey Transit and TriRail) were awarded part of the $250 million grant.
“The railroads have achieved some significant improvements over the past year implementing this safety technology,” said FRA Administrator Ron Batory. “While we are seeing progress among a majority of railroads, we want to see everyone meet their requirements.”
All Class I railroads and commuter railroads are required to have PTC fully implemented by Dec. 31, 2018, unless the carrier qualifies for an alternative schedule under the Positive Train Control Enforcement and Implementation Act of 2015 (PTCEI Act). Railroads approved for an alternate schedule must contain a deadline that is as soon as practicable, but no later than Dec. 31, 2020.
Click here to view a chart of carriers’ progress of implementing PTC. Click here to read FRA’s entire press release on the progress of PTC implementation.
Railroads’ progress on Positive Train Control remains uneven
WASHINGTON—The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (US DOT’s) Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) today released a status update on its efforts to assist railroads in implementing positive train control systems (PTC), along with the railroads’ self-reported progress for the fourth quarter of 2017.
At the direction of Secretary Elaine L. Chao, the FRA is taking a proactive approach to ensure railroads acquire, install, test and fully implement certified PTC systems in time to meet the congressional interim deadline of December 31, 2018.
“It is the railroads’ responsibility to meet the congressionally mandated PTC requirements,” said FRA Administrator Ronald L. Batory. “The FRA is committed to doing its part to ensure railroads and suppliers are working together to implement PTC systems.”
Between January 2 and February 14, 2018, FRA’s leadership hosted face-to-face meetings with executives from each of the 41 railroads subject to the statutory mandate. The purpose of the meetings was to evaluate each railroad’s PTC status and learn what remaining steps each needs to take to have a PTC system fully implemented by the December deadline or, at a minimum, to meet the statutory criteria necessary to qualify for an alternative schedule.
As a result of the meetings with railroads, FRA is now meeting with PTC suppliers to learn more about their capacity to meet the high demands for railroads’ implementation of PTC systems in a timely manner.
PTC systems are designed to prevent certain train-to-train collisions, over-speed derailments, incursions into established work zone limits, and trains going to the wrong tracks because a switch was left in the wrong position.
All railroads subject to the statutory PTC implementation mandate must implement FRA-certified and interoperable PTC systems by the end of the year. Under the Positive Train Control Enforcement and Implementation Act of 2015, however, Congress permits a railroad to request FRA’s approval of an “alternate schedule” with a deadline beyond December 31, 2018, but no later than December 31, 2020, for certain non-hardware, operational aspects of PTC system implementation. The congressional mandate requires FRA to approve a railroad’s alternative schedule with a deadline no later than December 31, 2020, if a railroad submits a written request to FRA that demonstrates the railroad has met the statutory criteria set forth under 49 U.S.C. § 20157(a)(3)(B).
The fourth quarter data, current as of December 31, 2017, shows PTC systems are in operation on approximately 56 percent of freight railroads’ route miles that are required to be governed by PTC systems—up from 45 percent last quarter and 16 percent on December 31, 2016. Passenger railroads have made less progress—with PTC systems in operation on only 24 percent of required route miles, unchanged from the previous quarter.
The latest data confirms that railroads continue to make progress in installing PTC system hardware, with 15 railroads reporting they have completed installation of all hardware necessary for PTC system implementation and another 11 railroads reporting they have installed over 80 percent of PTC system hardware. In addition, all but three railroads report having acquired sufficient spectrum for their PTC system needs.
The National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) announced Oct. 12 that it ruled that a collision between a pair of Union Pacific trains in Texarkana, Texas, in September 2015 was probably caused by crewmembers who did not respond to wayside signal indicators because they had fallen asleep.
The board also said that the lack of a functioning positive train control was a contributing factor in the collision.
At 12:34 a.m. Sept. 8, 2015, when a westbound UP engine on the Pine Bluff Subdivision struck a northbound UP train that was traveling on the Little Rock Subdivision, the board said.
Data from the locomotive event recorder of the striking train showed that the train slowed from 19 to 6 mph after the engineer applied the emergency brakes, the board said.
The engineer and conductor of the westbound train were treated for minor injuries, and there were no injuries to the crew of the northbound train, the board said.
Both of the westbound train’s locomotives derailed, spilling 4,000 of diesel fuel, while seven cars of the train that was struck left the tracks, the board said.
The NTSB said damage to the trains was estimated at $4.66 million.
The board also announced Oct. 17 that it was to convene Nov. 14 to determine probable cause of a collision that happened April 3, 2016, between an Amtrak train and a backhoe that killed a pair of rail workers who were repairing track ballast in Chester, Pa.
A total of 41 passengers were taken to the hospital after the collision, the board’s preliminary report said.
Jan. 3 – SMART Transportation Division submitted comments protesting in-cab distractions to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). The FRA recently issued a public notice in docket FRA 2016-0002-N-22, allowing for comments to be made on in-cab distractions.
“We have been concerned about the increase of in-cab distractions for some time and have submitted letters and comments to the FRA with our concerns. Two examples are Trip Optimizer and Leader, which are computer-generated devices located in locomotive cabs that are allegedly being used to save fuel,” SMART TD’s National Legislative Director John Risch said in the comments.
“In addition, PTC implementation is causing greater cab distractions than we had hoped it would. Instead of the PTC system simply stopping trains when necessary, they are constantly messaging the engineer to take some minor corrective action and requiring the engineer to interact immediately, which takes the crews’ focus off the track ahead and on the cab electronic device.”
ABCNews.go.com reported that federal regulators are concerned about the lack of progress from NYC commuter rail in implementing potentially lifesaving Positive Train Control (PTC) technology. “The nation’s three busiest commuter railroads — which together serve nearly 1 million riders in the New York City area each day — continue to lag behind their smaller West Coast counterparts in installing sophisticated train-control technology that’s seen as an antidote to crashes involving speeding and other human factors…” Read the complete article here.