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PTC - wtf??

Massive problems on the Newburyport/Rockport CR this morning, compounded by an utter lack of communications - either electronic or human - from Keolis.

The #158 from Newburyport was cancelled - one of the busiest trains on the line just cancelled for the ever-present "mechanical issues" Needless to say, all subsequent trips were crowded beyond capacity, the electronic signs in the station were wildly inaccurate, and the app was predicting trains that never arrived. One train, scheduled for 8:37 was running 6 minutes *early* but some of us waiting thought it was an earlier, delayed train so we waited for a less crowded car....wrong! Then, finally the #160 arrived (20 minutes late and packed) and the front coach was empty for the PTC test!! Stupid as it is to run the empty PTC cars during a normal rush hour, today was just asinine. Some folks simply opened the gate between the rest of the train and the empty coach, but why why why did we need to argue our way to get a seat? Think Keolis, just please think! and then try to remember to let us know, accurately, WTF is going on!

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... stayed in town today.

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It's a series of unfortunate facts that sometimes the "rules" regarding what you can and cannot do are precipitated by federal laws and regulations. The question becomes whether the test of PTC in the control-cab coach required it to be free of passengers -- -- or not.

In general, the MBTA has a policy of not allowing passengers in the control-cab end when it is leading the train as a safety issue in the event the train is involved ion some kind of accident. The objective is to protect the lives of the passengers since historically speaking, such accidents have seen the most fatalities and serious injuries in the lead cab-car. So the rule, as it is, is set to protect lives, and I am sure legal consequences.

It is also to protect the train operator from irate passengers, and the would-be terrorist.

Some of the rules they follow seem silly to us, but their failure to adhere to them can cause them to be fined, and in some instances those staff that fail to follow the regulations can be fired or even face criminal charges. Keep in mind railroads, even the MBTA, have to follow federal laws so any disciplines are at the federal level all too often.

No one likes it, but the solution is not complaining to the MBTA or Keolis. You need to get a batch of Congressmen on board. But don't hold your breath on that. Railroad regulations apply to the systems nationwide and are in place to hold those railroads that fail often to follow rules -- or else.

With the MBTA's recent report of safety failures now public, you can expect that when someone says a coach, locomotive, or transit car are not roadworthy, they will be immediately taken out of service. Of course, the MBTA lacks enough repair bays or parts to fix anything in a quick and timely manner, so those trains will remain out of service, there will be fewer trains to put into revenue service, and trains and subway runs will be cancelled left and right. Save this post. It's coming.

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PTC = Positive Train Control. As technology advances, new systems come on board to add to safety. PTC is a system that tracks and monitors train movements and in emergencies can stop a train automatically to help prevent accidents. It also can slow-down a train moving too fast.

That said, PTC works very well in many areas of the nation and on many railroads. However, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) did not assure that portions of the radio spectrum that works best with PTC were set aside just for that need. As a result, railroads are finding that they have to get the manufacturers of PTC equipment to design and build systems that can work over multiple radio frequencies. Think of it as having to flip through multiple channels on your TV just to keep watching the same TV program from beginning to end.

At present, Amtrak uses a system called ACSES (pronounced "aces") https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advanced_Civil_Speed_Enforcement_System on the Northeast Corridor (NEC) operating out of South Station to NYC and Wash DC. MBTA locomotives and cab control cars operating on the NEC have to have this system installed at present. However, ACSES does not exist on the North side out of North Station as that track was owned by PanAm-Guilford Railways. So trainsets that normally operate out of North Station cannot be used on the South Station runs because they do not have ACSES installed. In the opposite, a south side trainset can operate on the North side but ACSES is not in use when they do. They still operate from wayside signals (like street traffic signals) and by 2-way radio contact.

Installation of PTC adds to what ACSES does and increases safety, and creates a common system to be used across all railroads. Congress has mandated it be installed across the nation and set a drop-dead date for installation. Any railroad that does not meet the PTC installation deadline has to cease operation. While Congress has refused to allow for any additional extensions of this date, I suspect that some extensions will be granted.

The problem is not with PTC itself, but with having to switch over multiple radio channels automatically to make it work, and some railroads across the nation are being forced to create systems that may have to switch over multiple radio frequencies which itself is expensive. The preferred radio frequencies were sold off to private enterprise decades ago and at a time long-before any form of remote access was conceived, and because of that the FCC cannot pull those frequencies back just for the railroads.

One can expect the installation of PTC radio towers and equipment in every locomotive and control cab car to be an ongoing process until the end of 2020 (Congressional deadline for operation) but we may also see extensions granted one more time due to the technical complexities of making the system work properly, which is not the fault of the railroads, but the lack of radio spectrum on which it can effectively operate. The MBTA already has PTC installed on several branch lines and the rest of that installation is underway and they have test trains with equipment installed operating to flush out the bugs.

Since the ACSES system is already in place along the NEC the conversion to PTC will be less of an impact as existing transmission locations are upgraded. There is one near where I live with a railroad hi-band repeater for 2-way radio communications to trains.

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Voting closed 7

Do you happen to know how many tests need to be run to test the PTC system? Do they need to run during 'rush hour'? Why do they need to have the forward coach empty? It seems to me that there are trains on the north side that run during daytime hours (not enough of them, but that's another issue) and the empty, PTC coaches could run then, rather than crowding commuters into already crammed 'rush hour' trains.

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Rider from South Station here. The "test" train for our side has also popped up for what they call passenger service (as opposed to being a "work" train, as explained by a conductor when I asked).

I guess those cars have been specially reconfigured for the testing, so aren't deemed "certified" anymore for passenger service? I'd guess they ran it because they ran out of trains? If it was testing (again, from what I was told when I asked one night when I rode to town (work overnights) on one) no passengers would be allowed on at all. Sounds like whatever other issue was going on signal related may also have been PTC...but not because of that train being out? Just guessing. That sucks though

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the PTC implementation has been a massive failure. half the haverhill line was shut down during non-peak hours for 3 months after initially telling commuters it would take 1 month. After the 1 month passed, no new date was given, only "until further notice". one morning train on haverhill uses equipment from newburyport line (#150) - this train has been late every day this week due to PTC issues.

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It sounds similar to a story from NJ earlier this year (NJT has been struggling with meeting the PTC deadline (among several other problems))
Dealing with deadlines, some equipment shortages, and time required to install PTC on rolling stock, they were running some trains with a PTC-equipped cab car in front of a non-PTC locomotive in order to cancel fewer scheduled trains.

https://www.nj.com/traffic/2019/01/is-that-an-empty-car-at-the-head-of-t...

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