In 2008, Congress mandated that the industry install PTC on rail lines used by passenger trains or that transport tank cars moving poison- or toxic-by-inhalation hazardous materials. NS is equipping approximately 8,000 route miles, or nearly half of its system network, with infrastructure needed to run PTC-equipped trains.
NS expects to invest more than $1.8 billion in the effort. That includes the cost of outfitting locomotives with PTC equipment that acts as the “brain” of the system when paired with wayside signal and switch information. Industrywide, the price tag of developing and deploying PTC is estimated at over $10 billion.
“PTC is really complicated,” said Lisa Wilson, manager advanced train control regulatory compliance and training. “It is taking a lot of technology and putting it on top of the way we railroad now. We use radios, we use towers, we use different servers, we use all kinds of software within all these devices to talk PTC and make sure the system works. There’s been a tremendous amount of work both at NS and through the industry together to make sure the system is going to do what it’s supposed to do. There is an incredible amount of safety engineering required to build the right system and build the system right.”
PTC came to the industry as an unfunded congressional mandate. However, Squires told employees at a December "town hall" meeting that the industry must make the best of its investments. That involves exploring opportunities to leverage the technology beyond safety to improve operating efficiencies and grow revenue. With its communication capabilities, PTC holds potential for use in supply-chain logistics to enhance customer service, he said.
“It’s a huge investment,” Squires said. “It will change fundamentally, in some areas, the way in which we operate. Let’s do it right, and let’s make the best of it.”