Remember attempts by the FAA to modernize the nation’s air traffic control system? Among engineers and laypeople, failures in that megaproject became a national punchline.
Now history may repeat (in a way) as the technologically-backwards FRA struggles to implement a nationwide train control system. Called PTC (Positive Train Control), it was mandated by Congress following the catastrophic Chatsworth collision.
As usual, FRA intends to re-invent the wheel rather than use existing off-the-shelf solution:
Darrell Maxey, Metrolink’s director of engineering and construction, said the task is much larger than it might appear to consumers, who expect a quick fix. Maxey had no firm estimate on when exactly the new technology will be in place, and neither did Lane Fernandes, manager of North County Transit District’s Coaster commuter rail line, which stretches from Oceanside to San Diego. Both Maxey and Fernandes noted that train-control technology is new and relatively untested. Only a handful of rail lines across the nation have the system installed.
Meanwhile, in La La Land:
The North County Transit District is working with lobbyists in Washington, D.C., to obtain funding for a positive train control system, but like Metrolink, it finds itself waiting for a national standard to be adopted, Fernandes said. Fernandes said that having everyone agree on the system they will use is important, because freight trains travel on local tracks as well as across the country, using rail systems owned by numerous different public agencies and private companies.
“This is not something where you can just reach up on the shelf and pull something down and bolt it to the trains,” Fernandes said.
But of course it is something available on the shelf. Fernandes and the FRA just need to go shopping in the right aisle.