Right on Track
with PTC in SoCal
Metrolink has been providing rail transportation to Southern California since 1992. Nearly 12 million passenger trips are taken on Metrolink trains each year on seven routes across a six-county, 538 route-mile network, which includes a portion of northern San Diego County. As a facet of their continuous efforts to adapt and innovate with technology to provide the safest possible form of surface transportation available, Metrolink began implementing and planning to integrate Positive Train Control – known as PTC – on all their tracks in 2008.
PTC is more than just the implementation of a new project, it’s a whole new way of doing business.
Commitment to Safety
Metrolink’s commitment to safety combined with a motivated organizational culture has left them at the forefront of development when it comes to railroad safety nationwide, and they are continuing to innovate and adapt to maintain the safest possible form of ground transportation so that all travelers will continue to find comfort when they opt to ride the rails in Southern California.
To properly interface with PTC, Metrolink added over 20 new employees, implemented new processes and procedures and configured a management program designed specifically to manage incoming PTC changes. Complete implementation of PTC means more coordination within the Metrolink system, as well as interoperability and increased communication with other railroads and their respective systems. That means increased safety for travelers, workers and our communities in general.
Track workers connect with PTC technology to slow trains approaching work areas (Metrolink, metrolinktrains.com)
Making Solid Progress
As a result of their intrinsic drive toward safety, top-notch leadership and effective partnerships, Metrolink has reached the majority of its PTC implementation goals. 100% of needed spectrum has been acquired; 112 (100%) locomotive/cab cars are fully equipped with onboard safety enhancements; 231 (100%) wayside interface units were installed; 196 communication towers have been constructed; 184 (100%) wayside radios are now active on track equipment; 100% of back-office control systems are ready for operation; 330 employees (100%) have been trained in PTC; and 248.9 miles (100%) of commuter rail operations are in testing, revenue service demonstration, or are fully operational.
Innovating To Meet Challenges
No project comes without challenges. Achieving interoperability requires graceful coordination between agencies tied together with effective leadership. The Metrolink Board played a strong leadership role in its commitment to safety through PTC implementation. Metrolink’s adoption of PTC’s life-saving technology was achieved thanks to the support and diligence of its member agencies, the state, the federal government, freight railroads, and the North County Transit District.
For over eight years Metrolink has led regular workshops with the southern California railroads focused on PTC. Through their shared experiences and lessons learned, railroads worked through challenges, shared statuses and coordinated interoperability testing.
Being one of the first to implement PTC came with additional challenges such as recruiting and retraining quality staff and consultants for PTC. Other challenges included creating the technical specifications on how the PTC system would function, obtaining radio spectrum to support our vast size of Metrolink’s service territory covering six counties, and the shared railroad system with freight and passenger rail.
The on-board computer constantly calculates and displays the train’s safe-braking distance (Metrolink, metrolinktrains.com)
Through local, state and federal funds, Metrolink has spent $222 million on PTC implementation. Funding the installation and ongoing operation is a challenge that the agency continues to work through.
During the early implementation, Metrolink trains experienced some delays, however with the dedication of the board, executive leadership, staff, consultants, partners, elected officials and others no challenge too great to accomplish safety.
Additional Safety Measures
Metrolink has demonstrated its ongoing commitment to passenger and rail safety innovation by implementing additional safety measures such as:
Inward and Outward-Facing Cameras
Metrolink was the first railroad in the nation to install inward – and outward-facing video cameras in all its locomotives. The system includes three cameras per locomotive – an outward-facing camera to record activity in front of the train and two inward-facing cameras to record the control panels and human activities inside the locomotive cab. The installation of video cameras inside the control cabs provide a significant deterrent to inappropriate activity and unauthorized persons in the cab.
Crash Energy Management (CEM)
Metrolink was the first passenger rail system in the nation to adopt state-of-the-art cab and passenger cars, which feature unique CEM technology. CEM uses controlled crush zones, push-back couplers, anti-climbing devices, and other improvements–such as rear-facing-only seating in the cab car when the train is in the push position, and newly enhanced impact-resistant tables and seats–to turn the rail car into a giant shock absorber that preserves the space around the passengers and crew by diverting energy into controlled crush areas. This multi-layered system of energy management enhances the already outstanding crashworthiness of rail cars, taking rail safety to the next level. Metrolink’s new Tier 4 locomtoives, currently in the deployment process, are equipped with Crash Energy Management.
Automatic Train Stop (ATS)
The ATS system includes magnetic inductors placed next to the track at locations where the train is approaching a curve or speed change. The ATS system sounds an audible alarm and flashing alert on the engineer’s control panel when the train passes over the inductor. The train brakes are automatically applied if the engineer doesn’t push a button acknowledging the alert within approximately eight seconds. As part of Metrolink’s comprehensive public safety program, ATS provides greater situational awareness for engineers and an additional level of protection. ATS continues to be another redundancy in addition to PTC, to keep Metrolink riders safe.
Sealed Corridor Program
In 2006 Metrolink initiated a Sealed Corridor Program to reduce the potential for accidents at 57 different at-grade crossings. A sealed corridor is a comprehensive engineering design strategy intended to enhance the safe operations of trains, passengers, motorists, pedestrians and neighboring land uses within and along a railroad corridor, using appropriate safety measures (e.g., vehicle quad gates to prevent motorists from driving across the tracks when a train approaches and widening the roadways to prevent large vehicles from getting stuck on the tracks when turning) to reduce the opportunity for accidents at-grade crossings or elsewhere within the corridor.