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DCTA to get system on own

Profile image for By Bj Lewis
By Bj Lewis

Agency ends joint deal, will obtain positive train control for its operation

Denton County Transportation Authority officials plan to obtain a rail safety technology system for the A-train on their own.

DCTA officials had been working on a partnership with Dallas Area Rapid Transit and the Fort Worth Transportation Authority to implement a positive train control system for all three agencies, but recently DCTA officials pulled out of the deal and decided to take on positive train control on their own.

“What drives a lot of the tech solutions for DART and The T [Trinity Railway Express] aren’t necessarily going to be the things that apply to DCTA,” said Raymond Suarez, DCTA’s chief operating officer.

The A-train is DCTA’s commuter rail connecting Denton to Carrollton and allows passengers to connect with DART to continue traveling into Dallas.

PTC refers to train control technology that would prevent train-to-train collisions, over-speed derailments, incursions into established work zone limits and the movement of a train through a main line switch in the improper position.

This technology requirement was approved by Congress in 2008 with the Rail Safety Improvement Act. It is an effort to improve the safety of rail operations across the U.S. after the crash of a Metrolink passenger train and a Union Pacific freight train on Sept. 12, 2008, in California, which resulted in the deaths of 25 and injuries to more than 135 passengers.

PTC was also viewed as a necessity after the Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia earlier this year

Systems can vary widely in complexity and sophistication based on the different needs and operation of the various rail lines. Coupled with industry challenges, including availability of radio frequency, new technology and funding challenges, most of the transportation authorities are behind schedule, Suarez said.

“We’re not alone. There are a considerable number of railroads that are challenged with implementing PTC,” Suarez said.

About $5 billion has been spent to date in the U.S. to implement PTC technology. Statistics on that progress show that, nationwide, roughly 39 percent of locomotives will be fully PTC equipped, and 34 percent of the required employees will be trained in PTC by the end of 2015, Suarez said.

“There’s been an extraordinary level of cooperation between what many folks would consider competitors in the industry,” he said. “And as an industry, significant progress has been made in a short amount of time. It’s not a matter of if a solution will be reached, but when.”

In 2014, DART, DCTA and The T organized a regional partnership with the purpose of implementing a PTC compliant solution that meets the requirements of the law and is compatible across all three agencies.

When the estimated costs came back, DCTA officials re-evaluated the joint approach. Unlike DART and The T, DCTA has very little freight traffic that uses the corridor when DCTA is not operating, making other PTC technologies a viable option for DCTA.

“DCTA let us know back in mid-June after the solicitation for PTC had gone out that they would be doing their own thing,” said DART spokesman Morgan Lyons. “Certainly, that is their option if they choose to do that. We had hoped for a single regional solution, [but] their corridor is a little different than the Trinity Railway Express corridor. It doesn’t change what we are doing.”

Like DART has done, DCTA will soon send out solicitations for firms to bid on the contract for PTC services. Suarez said officials are not at liberty to discuss pricing because sometimes that can cause applicants to shy away from bidding on the project.

In the meantime, the December deadline looms, but Suarez is optimistic that Congress will come together and craft some kind of extension.

“That’s the hope. The [technology], while a lot of progress has been made, has not been fully vetted,” Suarez said. “[PTC] is a very complex solution. No one is really clear if a deadline is not extended whether or not the Federal Railroad Administration would take any action against commuters or Class I railroads.

“Everyone is hopeful there will be an extension forthcoming, but that is up to Congress on how they will address it. Meanwhile, everyone including DCTA is moving as efficiency as we can toward a solution.”

 

BJ LEWIS can be reached at 940-566-6875 and via Twitter at @BjLewisDRC.