In May 2015, an Amtrak train derailed while speeding around a stretch of track outside Philadelphia. Tragically, eight passengers were killed, and nearly 200 were injured in the accident. Had a Positive Train Control (PTC) system been operational on this track, the system would have recognized that the engineer failed to slow down and automatically engaged the braking system. These PTC-preventable accidents formed the impetus for an innovative service launched earlier this month by Rockwell Collins.
ARINC RailwayNet℠ is a PTC shared network and messaging service for short line and commuter railroads. Built on the same mission-critical infrastructure relied upon by aviation, government, security and critical infrastructure customers around the world, RailwayNet extends the PTC network to passenger and freight railroads in North America — creating a common communication infrastructure for all railroads.
Bridging the communications gap
“Eighty percent of passenger and freight railroads run on larger Class I railroads,” said Denny Lengyel, vice president of Rockwell Collins Surface Transportation Systems in Annapolis, Maryland. “With a PTC system, they’re able to exchange critical information with other railroads, improving the safety for everyone involved.”
These integral messages include everything from PTC initialization (the pre-departure equipment checks, crew authorizations and software updates) to en route messaging that keeps the train crew apprised of construction work and potential hazards throughout their route.
“RailwayNet is an opportunity for us to exercise our Information Management Services’ (IMS) capabilities in different and innovative ways,” Lengyel continued. “As a leader in global air-to-ground and ground-to-ground communications and an expert in PTC engineering and development, we’re building on our existing skills and infrastructure to support next-generation technology for the railway industry. It’s a natural fit for us.”
So much of a fit that the Federal Railway Administration (FRA) selected Rockwell Collins to create an integrated PTC solution, providing a $4.9 million grant to help short lines and commuter railroads implement PTC.
“We were chosen for our aviation industry expertise and the information management, command and control, and network solutions we currently provide to the rail industry,” said Lengyel. “We created RailwayNet to enable short line and commuter railroads to meet the PTC requirements mandated by the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 and to do so in a secure and efficient way.”
The mandate was enacted in response to several fatal rail accidents, including a 2008 head-on Metrolink crash near Chatsworth, California, which killed 25 and injured 135 passengers. As a result, the four U.S. Class I railroads — BNSF Railway, CSX Corp., Norfolk Southern Corp. and Union Pacific Corp. — are required to implement PTC solutions across approximately 70,000 miles of track by 2018.
A clear connection
The PTC implementation requires that railroads deliver messages electronically as well as by voice radio communications as they have historically done. To meet these communications needs, the Class I railroads created what’s known as the Federated Network. Interconnecting with all the short line and commuter railroads would create a highly complex communications environment.
RailwayNet eliminates this complexity. Positioned as a node on the Federated Network, RailwayNet creates a seamless flow of PTC messages between Class I, short line and commuter railroads. It also provides these smaller operations a ready-made solution to meet compliance mandates.
“A lot of passenger and short line railroads lack the infrastructure and staff to run the kind of 24x7x365 communications center needed to oversee that kind of traffic,” Lengyel said. “We support vital high-volume communications every day and can provide these solutions to the railroad industry in a highly reliable and cost-effective way.”
“PTC is technically very complex,” shared Bill Everett, business development manager for Surface Transportation and Critical Infrastructure. “One of the biggest challenges we’ve faced is educating short line and commuter passenger customers on PTC and helping them understand that it’s basically a system of systems.”
Everett, who also serves as a member of the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association’s Technology Committee, has been briefing its members since 2009 on the value that a hosted PTC service brings to their businesses. “PTC will change the way that railroads operate forever, and we’re a key part of that,” Everett continued. “With RailwayNet, the railroad industry will realize benefits that extend well beyond just safety.”
“PTC will change the way that railroads operate forever, and we’re a key part of that.”
“This is an amazing story of synergy,” said Elyas Farzan, director of marketing for IMS. “Our global aviation network manages millions of messages each day for the aviation community and our experience in the rail industry goes back decades.”
“PTC means fewer collisions and derailments, safer work environments on the tracks, and greater operating efficiencies for the railroads,” said Lengyel. “RailwayNet helps short line and commuter railroads meet the PTC mandate in an affordable and reliable way. It all ties back to our purpose to keep people safe, connected and informed — whether in the air or on the railways.”
By Kalindi Garvin