Author Archive

Degrees of Separation

The concept of 6 degrees of separation was initially introduced in a play written by John Guare in the early part of the 20th century declaring that each of us is only six steps of introduction from any person in the world. In current terms, this concept is readily acceptable given the advancement in communications and travel that has shrunk the world as to providing such connectivity. In fact, with the predominance of social networks available via the world wide conduit of the internet, one could argue that the six degrees of separation is now substantially less, if not just one. Arguably, the most dramatic example is that of the Arab Spring that has brought the citizens of suppressed countries, including their expatriates, to the point of uniting against their respective governmental tyrants.  One would like to think that our individual connectivity has no boundaries at this point as long as the paths of internet communications can be provided to the masses via wireless. However, as well demonstrated by the recent U.S. Presidential election, this same advancement in connectivity also provides the ability for those individuals that don’t have a rational understanding of facts to present their self-serving prejudices to misdirect those that solely place their faith in the written word, as to what can be achieved. To that point, only but the most uninformed or self-serving individuals would be quickly reminded by the Republican campaign for the recent U.S. President election which overwhelmingly (compared to that of Democrat’s campaign), consisted of a constant stream of a substantially misrepresentation of facts to present a phenomenally irrational, non-compromising  right wing perspective that serviced those most-selfish individuals that have benefitted from the benefits of a capitalistic  society, but without the recognition of the masses that have made their accomplishments achievable. Fortunately, for the benefit of the majority of the U.S. populace, President Obama was re-elected. With that stated, onward to railroads.

Playing on this concept of how technologies, most specifically wireless communications linked with Internet, have brought the world closer today, it also true the degree of train separation can also benefit from the introduction of technologies, again wireless data, and the use of advanced traffic management systems that can provide a substantial increase in traffic density for any given corridor by simply knowing the position AND speed of trains. With the availability of both position AND speed data, that doesn’t  exist for the majority of railroads across the globe, a railroad’s operations can project  and prevent conflicts that may occur even within fixed-block operations as determined by traditional electronic signaling operations that depend upon traditional wayside technologies that provide block-size positioning at best. I refer to this capability as Proactive Traffic Management (PTM) as is described in greater detail in  various other postings on this blog.

The deployment of PTM is quite inexpensive  both absolutely and especially relative to its value in that it can be provided as an overlay to a railroad’s choice of traffic control, whether it be signaled or non-signaled, WITHOUT replacing the dispatching platform. This is true because PTM is only a management decision tool and not an execution platform such as CTC or Track Warrant. As a decision tool, PTM can dramatically complement, if not replace in many cases, the skill set of the dispatcher who is a manager of the execution platform. This means that PTM is not functionally vital, i.e., it does not generate authorities that provides for the integrity of train movements. The ultimate deployment of PTM is when it is tightly integrated with traffic control thereby becoming some level of moving block – a vital system. But only a few high speed / high density railroads can benefit from a moving block capability. In fact, in the U.S. there are a number of operations-savy individuals that will note that moving block for the most dense freight traffic corridors would provide little benefit until the yard operations are optimized concurrently. So! As an overlay to traffic control, short of making a transition to moving block, what is holding back the deployment of PTM across the majority of globe? I believe the primary reasons differ between public and private railroads.

PUBLIC: Outside of the Americas, the predominance of rail operations are owned / controlled by the governments of the countries in which they operate.  Again, in general, these are passenger operations without a clear responsibility for addressing financial bottom line, i.e., providing cost effective solutions that have to pass the threshold business test as to making a profit, or else it is out of business. In these environments it seems that the suppliers often rule the roost in designing the traffic control solutions that aren’t necessarily cost-justified. Technicians thrive on promoting systems in this environment; they believe that they are justified in delivering solutions without restrictions as to costs. However, for those countries that are confronted with growing their economies internally, as well as integrating with the world economy, they are being presented with technologies that they simply cannot be justified.

PRIVATE: In the Americas, the freight railroads are competing with road, barge, and pipeline transport and therefore have to maintain a for-profit operation to stay in business … or they are out of business. Indeed, in the U.S. there have been tens if not hundreds of railroad bankruptcies in the last century. The Penn Central bankruptcy in the 70s (which the largest bankruptcy up to that time for all industries and for which I was the lead financial analyst for the Trustee Staff, is the ultimate example. This railroad lost its understanding of what it was, and eventually went under. That railroad went into a downward spiral as it reduced maintenance expenditures . . . which resulted in reduced traffic speed . . . which resulted in the loss of revenue . . . which resulted in further reduction in maintenance expenditures … and the downward spiral continued to the point of bankruptcy.  Conrail was the Phoenix rising from the ashes of the Penn Central. OK, back to the issue of separation.

The separation between trains, a.k.a. headway, is THE key issue in determining the type of traffic control that should be in place, whether it be freight or passenger operations. Those European suppliers that service the high speed, high density operations in place across that continent have developed sophisticated systems that provide for both safe and efficient operations. BUT, what about those countries in Africa, the Middle East, and elsewhere that need cost-effective solutions to bring basic rail infrastructure to grow their GNP, both internally and relative to the world market?  They cannot afford the likes of traditional signaling, yet alone ETCS 1,2,3. These railroads need cost-effective solutions ; they need traffic control solutions generically referred to as dark territory that are used by railroads in the Americas that have a clear vision to the bottom line. They also need enforcement systems to prevent accidents due to human errors.  I speak with experience on this point given my assignment as Project Leader to address the safety and efficiency of the Egyptian National Railways (ENR) that still uses token and token-less traffic control across 82% of its operations.  With detail to be provide in the next posting on this blog, my team of independent consultants  (we don’t represent suppliers and we don’t accept commissions) have designed a traffic control, traffic management, and enforcement system that greatly improves both the safety and efficiency of ENR’s operation at a mere fraction of the cost to deploy ETCS.  This is a proven system as to the individual components that we have integrated. We have done so recognizing the true nature of ENR as to what they are and will be in the foreseeable future along with the realization of the capital investment that they can support. The approach I have titled as Virtual CTC (V-CTC) + Enforcement,  provides CTC functionality with the ability to prevent accidents due to drivers AS WELL as mechanical interlocking operators and level crossing guards, as well as the loss of train integrity. For example, two horrific accidents in Egypt in November, 2012 resulted in 54 fatalities that could have been prevented with V-CTC + Enforcement due to errors by mechanical interlocking operators and level crossing guards. Both of these accidents would not have occurred in the U.S., but in Egypt with their antiquated traffic control systems dependent upon “vital employees” (see the previous posting on this blog), there were human errors for which there was no enforcement system in place to prevent. But, through the efforts of my team in performing our study there, we recognized and modified the enforcement concept of PTC to handle. Specifically, we have designed an approach that monitors the traffic control activities of these vital employees to ensure that they have performed in providing valid movement authorities.  Most importantly, Virtual CTC + Enforcement minimizes the capital requirements to operate the railroad both safely and efficiently, versus slamming in signaling infrastructure and/or ETCS that would be 30 to 50 times more expensive by my rough estimate.

I can’t over emphasized the need for pragmatic, cost-effective solutions for traffic control, traffic management, and enforcement that traditional suppliers have refused to address for the majority of railroad operations across the globe.  Shame on them. Enough said. The next posting here will present V-CTC + Enforcement for those railroads and suppliers that are looking for solutions that support the majority of railroads across the globe that don’t provide high speed / high density operation – both passenger and freight. Please contact me at comarch@aol.com if you which to discuss your particular interests. My team of seasoned railroad professionals can address the functional, technical, financial, and mathematical throughput analysis of considering V-CTC + Enforcement from both a tactical and strategic perspective relative to expanding the safety and efficiency of a railroad’s operation, especially when integrating freight and passenger operations.

The bottom line here is that I warn railroads from being fooled by the written and stated words of suppliers that have solutions that are not appropriate for their operations. There may be pragmatic, cost effective solutions of which they may not be aware.

The Vital Employee

With the introduction of overlay PTC just over a decade ago, the concept of vitality needed to be expanded at that point beyond the mantra of signaling engineers as to a vital component or system being one that fails in a safe manner, i.e., failure without introducing any additional risk.  In addition to this design vitality, it was necessary to introduce a concept of functional vitality to prove that PTC was and remains not vital. That is, a functionally vital entity is one that generates the movement authorities for trains, thereby providing for the integrity of train movements. For signal engineers the two concepts are inseparable, and in their viewpoint, anything associated with traffic control must by vital. Such fatuous rationalization can be quite unfortunate for the deployment of advancing technologies in railroads, including PTC. Two current examples here are ITC’s efforts in designing the wireless and positioning platforms for PTC that are way beyond what is required for a non-vital system, if even a vital one.

In anticipation of such design tangents by railroad technicians ( as demonstrated in the past by UP with it Precision Train Control project that died from overdesign), I introduced the functionally vital perspective a decade ago to demonstrate that overlay PTC is not vital and therefore not subject to the design and regulatory complexities associated with vital systems. Stated otherwise, PTC’s ability to enhance the safety of rail operations is substantially less critical than that of the traffic control systems that provide for the integrity of train movements. PTC only addresses human errors whereas traffic control systems are absolute.

Being the architect of the first overlay PTC system, I was continuously challenged during the early years by labor, FRA, suppliers, and even my counterparts on other railroads, to explain why PTC is not vital. The forum for these discussions was primarily that of the Rail Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC) for PTC that was charged with defining the core objectives of PTC. Understandably, RSAC-PTC was primarily manned by signal engineers who live and breathe vitality with their natural inclination being that everything is vital. Again, for them PTC had to be vital, I assume, because it addresses safety, and it is related to vital traffic control systems. At the same time, signal engineers when asked during the courses I teach on PTC and railroad operations “What is vital in dark territory?”, will respond that there is nothing vital since there is no wayside equipment. The solution for addressing both of these ill-structured mind-sets of signal engineers as to PTC and dark territory was to provide the functional definition of vitality that really goes to the core of running a safe railroad, i.e., the generation of authorities.

In parallel with the functional vitality effort was the extraordinary task of convincing the masses that PTC did not deliver those business benefits that continue to be so widely and wildly proclaimed by FRA and suppliers as to increasing traffic density and the efficiency of the key operating assets, e.g., crews, locomotives, and even maintenance crews. I quote the FRA’s website “In addition to providing a greater level of safety and security, PTC systems also enable a railroad to run scheduled operations and provide improved running time, greater running time reliability, higher asset utilization, and greater track capacity.” Here is the simple, and one would think very obvious, logic as to why overlay PTC can’t provide such business benefits. To increase traffic density means that the generation of movement authorities need to be done more efficiently … and since PTC does not generate movement authorities (nor deliver them as the FRA website proclaims – that is the purpose of digital authorities – not PTC), then it cannot provide those benefits.  Actually, if not properly designed, PTC can actually decrease both the traffic density and safety by making unnecessary enforcements. What the FRA and others who flaunt PTC business benefits refuse to understand is that it is the wireless data path required by PTC that also permits train tracking status data to be delivered to back office management systems.  As demonstrated by NS and BNSF at least, a railroad doesn’t need PTC to obtain the stated business benefits; a railroad only needs a wireless data platform, whether it be cellular, satellite, and/or private. In any event, the bottom line remains, i.e., PTC is not vital in any sense.

OK, at this point you may be thinking about VPTC (where V means vital) which is one title given to the PTC systems being pursued by the freight and commuter railroads. Clearly such a title suggests that PTC is vital, but it isn’t. VPTC means that the platforms upon which those PTC systems are deployed are design vital so as to reduce the failure of the PTC system, but PTC is still not functionally vital. The purpose of VPTC is to provide a pragmatic economical solution to regulatory issues that requires a restricted speed for a train should its PTC platform fail. In heavy density corridors, the application of restricted speed could result in significant business costs.

With the distinction between design and functional vitality now established above, I introduce a new vitality phrase: “Vital Employee”. Simply stated, a vital employee is one that generates a movement authority. For U.S. railroads, the primary example is the Employee-In-Charge (EIC) that provides the authority to a train to move through a work zone, a work zone that is encapsulated (nested) within an authority generated by a traffic control system. Handling the enforcement of the nested EIC authority was a major design issue that I had to provide for the first overlay PTC system … and is now used by the PTC systems being deployed by the freight railroads.  Again this was done in a non-vital way by not affecting the underlying Method of Operations, thereby avoiding regulatory complexities.

The vital employee perspective has proven to be particularly challenging in my assignment as Project Leader for a consulting effort in Egypt to advance both the safety and efficiency of the majority of the Egyptian National Railways (ENR) operations that use token block and TYER, a.k.a. British Absolute Block, traffic control systems. In the case of ENR, their operations have mechanical interlockings that are handled by operators independent of the central movement office. Instead of a centralized dispatcher, ENR uses block/interlocking operators to generate block-by-block authorities thereby compromising the efficiency and safety of train movements compared to that which railroads around the world achieve with dark and signaled operations. For this engagement, a “virtual” CTC (V-CTC) system is being designed that will provide for multiple block authorities subjected to nested, manual interlocking authorities. This solution provides for enforcement for the authorities generated by both V-CTC as well as the interlocking operator.

As a closing point, I wish to remind all that the Book of Rules provides the underlying threshold of vitality for all rail systems. In my 40+ years in the industry, I find that too many tend to ignore this point – just as signal engineers tend to ignore dark territory.

It Takes an Industry: Process

In the previous 2 posts of this set of 3 regarding Industry INTRAoperability (not Railroad INTERoperability for PTC) I addressed both the opportunity and the rail executive education that are required for the unprecedented opportunity to advance the railroads’ operations, both individually and as an industry. The underlying logic is that rail executives are motivated by their bonus plans to optimize the handling of their responsibilities. Hence, a strategic perspective that is beyond the horizon of their bonus program requires that top management be so educated to provide the incentive to think strategically as to the deployment of technologies to satisfy a strategic business plan, a.k.a. Strategic Railroading™. In this posting I discuss a well-proven process that provides the structure to do so.

 

In other postings on this blog I have referenced IBM’s efforts in the 70s and 80s to introduce the usage of computers across industries to replace manual business processes as well as to re-engineer business processes given the integration of computers with telecommunications, thereby establishing new flows of information within and between enterprises.  In addition to the prestigious executive sessions that IBM provided for its clients back then, IBM developed a very formal process for identifying the information flow architecture that would support the advancement of computers. Referred to as Business System Processing (BSP), the Wikipedia description properly identifies the primary objectives, i.e.,

  • understand the issues and opportunities with the current applications and technical architecture,
  • develop a future state and migration path for the technology that supports the enterprise,
  • provide business executives with a direction and decision making framework for IT capital expenditures,
  • provide information system (IS) with a blueprint for development.

Why BSP can be of great value to the railroads in particular at this point is the opportunity of developing “a future state and migration path” given the proliferation of wireless networks, both private and commercial. Even more to the point is the tremendous effort and investment that the railroads are making to lay in a 220 MHz network in the name of PTC. And, as noted in other postings on this blog, this decision by the railroads to deploy 220 MHz is really pathetic in two primary ways.  First, the railroads have failed to justify the need for additional 220 MHz as evidenced by FCC’s rejection of the railroads’ request for such spectrum in addition to what they already own. Second, there is no strategic business plan associated with any strategic technology plan (other than to just install 220 MHz) to cost-effectively use all of the spectrum that the railroads now possess. It is in support of both of these points that a BSP could lay the foundation of how wireless can benefit not only the individual railroads, but also the industry overall. In fact, had the railroads already performed a BSP for the industry, one that was truly understood and accepted by senior management, then the 220 MHz sham by the railroads’ technicians would have never gained any ground in my opinion.

So! It’s agreed then. A BSP can be greatly beneficial. But how is such a process performed?

BSP Process

There are 8 primary, structured & well-proven steps in performing a BSP, as follows:

1. Gain Executive Authority: This is often the most critical part of a BSP. Without the proper level of commitment to support the need for incorporating multiple departments of an organization within the study, the effort will fail with the first major disagreement between the departments, a disagreement that is inevitable;

2. Define the Business Strategy: This steps sounds difficult perhaps, but it actually is quite simple if the participants can be honest about the successes and failings of the organization and their individual departments;

3.Define the Business Processes: This is the most creative part of the BSP in that it requires visionaries that can look beyond the current processes and recognize the possible changes due to advancing technologies. For railroads it is the focus on wireless data that can provide for more timely and accurate management of the vast sets of mobile assets;

4. Define the Business Classes: Defining data classes (aggregates of related data elements) is very straightforward once the business processes have been defined.  (Note the very simplified example below of which business processes create / use the various business classes.);

5. Validate Finds with Management: This process establishes a line in sand with the management team that demonstrates the study is meeting the objectives of the study so as to ensure on-going commitment.

6. Define the Information Architecture: Ah Yes! This is the most fantastic step where the BSP effort really clicks and all participants and management can see what they have been missing as to information flow between the primary entities, and processes. (Note below a simplified example of a BSP that I performed for the intermodal industry. The arrows indicate the flow of specific data classes (descriptions not included) between operational entities and/or data bases. The black objects and arrows are current, the red objects and arrows are new relative to the changes in the business processes, and blue objects are hardware that need to be developed;

7. Establish Information System Priorities: The appropriateness and credibility of the information architecture developed via the BSP is first tested here as each player pulls for particular interests in establishing the priorities of the future information systems. Using the above diagram as an example, the order in which the red blocks are developed, either individually or collectively, can greatly affect the actual success of reaching the desired overall objective.

8. Make the Business Case for Management: YES! The most important business case. If nothing else, the BSP process takes the control of technology investment out of the hands of the technicians who seemingly have the desire to deliver the optimum system as to capability, whether it is required or not.  Again, the most current, and capital-wasting example of this is that of PTC deployment where the technologists are out of control as to wireless (220 MHz), a train positioning platform, and the use of wayside interface units to interface with Intermediary Signals ( see the previous posting on this block “IS … Not”).

Voila!  I have managed or participated in 4 BSPs … and this is really good stuff.

IS … Not

In the forthcoming April, 2012  issue of Railway Age, I expose the tremendous over-design of PTC by the railroad’s technicians.  Specifically I refer to the issues of 220 MHz for a wireless network that is totally unjustified given the railroads current available wireless bands that are being ignored  (which the FCC shot down as to the request for additional 220 spectrum), as well as their pursuit of a Positive Train Location (PTL) component that is far beyond that which is really required. What I purposely left out of the article was the railroads’ pursuit of incorporating Intermediary Signals (ISs) into the functionality of PTC.  I did so because I thought this was a bridge too far for even Railway Age (what I consider to be the most daring and honest of railroad periodicals) to take on this subject. But, the short is that the railroads’ technicians have once again ignored the actual requirements by developing solutions that are, again, totally unjustified as to both functional and technical perspectives. If you dig deeply enough into this blog you will find a posting YOY WIUs where I introduced my thoughts with an explanation meant for the non-technicians.  What you read below, is a well-qualified operator’s perspective of this very point. The author is Dave Schanoes and his blog is www.ten90solutions.com.

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PTC–Everybody, at least in the US, is talking about PTC.  I’m no different.  I talk about it.  I think about it.  I do some work on it.  And let’s be clear– I welcomed the mandate for it… although let’s be completely clear: the Chatsworth collision that moved the US Congress to act could have been prevented by the decades old cab signal/ATC systems in use on many railroads.

So maybe PTC wasn’t needed there, but even with ATC something more is needed; actually a few something mores, given the mixture of signalled and non-signalled territory in the US.

I was talking to my friend, Ron Lindsey, of Communication Architecture about end of train, restricted speed, intermediate signals and his questions made me think, and my thoughts made him question me some more, and we agree on this:

Why This? And why not This?

March 26, 2012

236.1005 (a) (2) of the famous subpart I of the regulations governing train control reads:

“[Each PTC system required to be installed under this subpart shall] include safety-critical integration of all authorities and indications of a wayside or cab signal system, or other similar appliance, method, device, or system of equivalent safety, in a manner by which the PTC system shall provide associated warning and enforcement to the extent, and except as, described and justified in the FRA approved PTCDEP or PTCSP…”

which means, or has been interpreted to mean,  intermediate block signal indications of a fixed block system, utilizing either wayside or cab signals or both, must be displayed [that’s the authority part, because in rule 251 or 261 territory, signal indications are the authority for movement] and enforced [that’s the indications part, as the fixed wayside, or cab displayed, block signals are speed indications].

There’s a “limited cab” in your system that means passenger trains must not exceed 45 mph?  Guess what? PTC has to display and enforce that limited cab and speed.

So here’s my question…”why?”  I’m serious, why?  What is gained by PTC enforcing the intermediate signals rather than calculating the braking curve and enforcing the braking curve to the point of restriction?

Well, someone’s going to say, because the point of restriction is a train somewhere ahead of the train receiving the “limited” indication, and the point of restriction is the restriced speed indication protecting the block in which that train is, and any block signal can be a signal displaying restricted speed, and therefore, PTC must monitor the intermediate signal aspects and enforce the intermediate signal indications.

Before we go any further– no, I’m not going to advocate we do away with fixed blocks [although I heartily recommend doing away with wayside signals except at interlockings in favor of cab signal systems.  And no, I’m not going to make an argument for CBTC or dynamic block or moving block, because I do not think CBTC or its variants are required for either passenger or freight movements in the US, given the density of the traffic.  And, no I’m not going to advocate doing away with the “restricted speed” indication— I think the restricted speed indication has a very important role to play in terminals, yards, stations, and for broken rail protection.

I just don’t think “restricted speed” (1) can actually be enforced by PTC  (2) is an effective and “positive” method of safe train separation.

Far be it from me to opportunistically cite the recent spate of restricted speed collisions as supporting evidence, but I refer to the recent spate of restricted speed collisions as establishing the point that we need to do just a bit better.

First, enforcing intermediate signal indications, even the restricted speed indication, is not necessary to PTC accomplishing its core functions: preventing train-to-train collision; derailment due to overspeed through permanent or temporary speed restriction; unauthorized incursion into a work zone;  operation through a switch not properly lined for the train’s intended route.

Train-to-train collisions can still occur at restricted speed; overspeed derailment can, and is prevented without resorting to signal indication; unauthorized incursion into a work zone is eliminated through enforcement of a  positive stop ; an improperly lined switch should also be protected through enforcement of a positive stop.

And… PTC is not enforcing restricted speed.   It is only enforcing the numerical magnitude, the “not to exceed,” tacked on to the rear end of the definitiion.  The meaning of restricted speed does not reside in the speed value.  The authorization for continued movement upon receiving the restricted speed signal is not an authorization to proceed at a certain speed.  The authority for movement is based on crew responsibility, upon the crew observing the rule.  Of course, this simply reintroduces the possibility for human error, which PTC is supposed to prevent in the first place.

The “guts” of the restricted speed indication is that “movement must be made at a speed that allows stopping within half the range of vision short of….” ( you know the rest).  PTC can’t enforce that.

Would you like to know something else about intermediate signals and the enforcement of their indications?  Railroads don’t do it.  Cab signal/automatic speed control systems do not do it… or aren’t required to do it.

You wanna bet?  Yeah, I wanna bet.

Back in the day when I was person with a bit of authority on a major commuter railroad in a major metropolitan area, I took out my trusty pencil and paper and did some calculations.

We used a 4 aspect, fixed block, cab signal/speed control system.  The aspects and associated indications were:  “normal”= MAS; “limited”= for passenger trains, not to exceed 45 mph; “medium”=for passenger trains, not to exceed 30 mph; “restricted”– prepared to stop within half the range of vision etc. etc. not to exceed 15 mph.

On a rather busy portion of our railroad, the MAS was 80 mph.  A train receiving a downgrade to “limited cab” was theoretically required to be at limited speed before entering the next block, particularly if the signal indication at that block was “medium cab.”

With our four aspect system, our signal design distance for deceleration from 80 mph to zero was approximately 9600 feet.  Our required rate of deceleration was 1.28 ft/sec/sec  or  (-).84 g.

But because we do things evenly, each block was approximately 2400 feet long.  Our signal design distance showed a required distance for decelerating from 80 mph to limited speed [45 mph] of 4611 feet, including the 8 second free-run time.

So what gives, here?  What gives is that our on-board speed control systems did not monitor the target speed of  the train in accordance with the speed transmitted by the signal protecting that block, but by the required braking rate to achieve zero velocity.

Certainly, if the engineer released the brakes before the target speed was achieved, a penalty brake application would ensue, but that again was based on not achieving a required rate of deceleration.

PTC does that.  It enforces that.  What it needs is not the signal data per se, but the location of the speed restriction, the target to which it calculates and enforces the required braking curve to comply with the limit to authority.

Cab signal/ATC systems  convey authority to the following train  enforcing  the numerical magnitude of the speed, rather than enforcing the limitation to the authority.  And that limitation is strictly a function of the technology the signal systems were built upon.

Why restricted speed?  Why intermediate signals?  Because we had NO WAY of determining, in the field, by the field apparatus, the location of the rear end of the leading train.

And today?  Today, we definitely have that technology.  We have GPS to locate the head end of the train.  On passenger trains, we know how many cars are in the consist and the exact length of each car.

And for freight trains?  Freight trains in the US operate with EOTs– end-of-train devices that utilize radio telemetry to convey the brake pipe pressure, airflow, etc. at the very rear of the train to the head end of the train.  There is no reason that signal cannot be enhanced, and processed to confirm train integrity to the GPS system and to measure train length.

Conveying the train length to the Back Office System and using that length to enforce a positive stop, to withdraw a following train’s authority for movement at a point to the rear,  then becomes part of our algorithm, adjusting for grade (slack on the lead train, braking on the following) for safe train separation.  This is not “moving block”– but certainly could become so in existing dark territory– but rather limit to the authority for movement in a fixed block system.

And if you ask me, it would be a shame to let the limitations of an older technology hobble that of the new, forcing us to repeat the same old, same old, same old failures.

You did ask me, right?

 

Copyright 3/26/2012 by Dave Schanoes

It Takes an Industry: Education

This is the 2nd of 3 postings that address Industry INTRAoperability (I/I), i.e. the development of systems that support the business interest of the entire rail industry, versus the advances in technologies and systems made by each individual railroad for its singular purposes.  I/I is not the same as Railroad INTERoperability, as is required to deploy Positive Train Control (PTC) as a safety enhancement to the traffic control systems that provide for the integrity of movement operations. Rather, I/I addresses the business perspective of the advantages to the industry by the improved management of key resources subject to the interchange of trains between railroads. The assets that I am referring include the full array: track time, train crews, yards, locomotives, rolling stock, and shipments of high value and/or involving security issues.

Yes! I did state track time, train crews, and yards even those assets don’t cross borders. The reason for doing so is that the use of those assets increases in efficiency as the degree of scheduled operations increases . . . And, the ability of an individual railroad to run to scheduled operations is partially dependent upon the schedule reliability of the railroads with which it interconnects . . . And, since most railroads have yet to demonstrate their ability to run to schedule to a significant extent, contrary to their claims, then a valuable opportunity of pursuing I/I is that of providing timely data of train movements, both position and speed, across all interconnecting railroads so as line-ups can be adjusted in a timely fashion.  Unfortunately, even with such data, a number of roads are incapable of using it to any great extent given their lack of Proactive Traffic Management techniques that I introduced 6 years or so ago in my quarterly publication, Full Spectrum. However, it is encouraging that at least NS and BNSF have made such advancements via the deployment of pragmatic wireless solutions that can report the speed and position of their own trains on their respective properties.

As to the locomotives, rolling stock, and shipments that do cross railroad borders I identified a number of I/I applications in the FRA-funded study I performed in 2008: A Demand and Supply Analysis of the Opportunities for Wireless Technologies in Passenger and Freight Rail Operations, (www.fra.dot.gov/downloads/Research/ord0802.pdf). As the result of that study, I decided shortly thereafter to take the same approach that IBM used in the 60s and 70s to bring about major changes in the traditional business processes of a full range of industries with the introduction of main frame computers. That is, IBM established major executive education facilities and curriculums across the U.S. to expose their prospective clients’ top management teams to what could be done with computers. As noted in the previous posting, the initial efforts focused on replacing manual data handling processes, e.g., payroll, accounts receivables / payables, with computerized data processing. However, with the introduction of affordable disk storage and the integration of telecommunications with computers, the curriculums expanded in scope by identifying how to change the traditional business processes given the opportunities to rethink the flow of information within and between enterprises (The process of structuring a strategic information flow architecture will be discussed in the next posting: It Takes an Industry: Process).

So, following IBM’s lead I put together an Strategic Railroading Symposium for top railroad executives that would be sponsored by the supplier community overall to remove even the perception of bias. The symposium schedule (presented below) that I put together consisted of 2 tracks, Operations & Engineering, with two categories of topics each, that addressed I/I opportunities as well as other possible applications that I believed at that time would be valuable exposure for railroad top management. Actually, this effort was progressing well with the expression of key suppliers to participate . . . that is until the ramifications of the just-ordered PTC mandate took effect. At that point, rail’s management teams withdrew into their caves rejecting the consideration of anything other than the challenges of implementing PTC. The suppliers, hence, backed away from the opportunity given their inability to market even their current products and services, yet alone the challenges and risks of developing a long-term strategic perspective.

As you will see in the agenda below, several of those applications have had sporadic initiations across the industry in the last several years.

OPERATIONS
Traffic Management
Delivering Proactive Traffic Management NOW without new CAD
The pragmatic application of meet/pass planning tools
Effective management of the line-up
The challenges and opportunities of effective interchange
The challenges to increasing scheduled operations
Reconciling the perspectives of Service Design vs. Operations
Integration of yard status with main line dispatching
Minimizing conflict between high speed passenger and freight trains
Resource Management
Optimizing crew management relative to the lineup
Balancing locomotive fleets across the industry
Industry tracking of key rolling stock and shipment status
A new look at work order reporting in light of TSA requirements
Maintaining chain-of-custody for critical shipments
Opportunities for improved yard management
ENGINEERING
Track & Wayside
Unattended, locomotive-borne track inspection
Enhanced safety for on-track workers without authorities
Enhanced safety for workers within work zones
Monitoring the position and health of critical maintenance equipment
Rolling Stock
Locomotive tracking & diagnostics across the industry
Performance-based locomotive maintenance
Industry-based locomotive maintenance
In-train monitoring systems of equipment and shipments

When rail management surfaces from the PTC abyss, then perhaps there will be an opportunity to reconsider some version of the Strategic Railroading Symposium.

It Takes an Industry

There is unlikely to be anyone significantly involved with the U.S. freight industry that has not been exposed to the phrase railroad interoperability given the Federal mandate of Positive Train Control (PTC), an overlay enforcement system. This mandate, via the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, has consumed extensive capital and human resources of the railroads and selected suppliers to design and implement PTC before 2016 in such a fashion that the movement across railroad borders will be transparent to the on-board PTC system. This transparency of interchange, a.k.a. railroad INTERoperability, is unprecedented in the U.S. as to both technologies and cooperation between the railroads, and only exceeded by the European countries in their development and deployment of ETCS, a traffic control system with integrated enforcement. However, unlike ETCS which has been handled by the supplier community, PTC is primarily an effort of the 4 primary Class I railroads, much to dismay of the commuter railroads that are basically at the mercy of what the Class Is provide (see a previous posting on this blog: A Wag of the Finger).

 

While providing for PTC interoperability across railroads is an extraordinary effort for which the Class Is deserve tremendous credit for addressing the technology challenges (albeit a tremendous overkill as to wireless – see previous posting: Don’t Drink the Kool Aid), the railroads are failing to an equal or even greater extent to address the functionality issues of this effort that are available to them. That is, the technicians for PTC are doing what they are required to do to address PTC functionality, but the Class Is’ senior management teams are not considering what can be achieved across the industry as to operations and resource management given the wireless network that is to be deployed for PTC. I refer to this industry-wide functionality as Industry INTRAoperability (I/I) as was introduced in the FRA-funded study I performed in 2008: A Demand and Supply Analysis of the Opportunities for Wireless Technologies in Passenger and Freight Rail Operations (www.fra.dot.gov/downloads/Research/ord0802.pdf).

 

So! Why are railroads not pursuing I/I ? The answer involves two components. First, railroad executives are highly motivated, if not exclusively so, by the executive bonus programs that are provided them. Second, to pursue I/I requires resources that are not generally available in the railroads, i.e., technologists (not technicians) that can envision and develop cost-effective, strategic technology plans in sync with strategic business plans, a.k.a. Strategic Railroading. As to both of these components, I offer a primary example.  If railroads truly wanted to pursue scheduled operations, then to do so would mean that the railroads with which they interchange must be striving for schedule operations as well. That means reliable cooperation within and between roads . . . which means that the executive bonus programs must be so structured  – but they aren’t.  If they were, then perhaps the railroads would provide for the second component, the technologists that could work together just as the technicians from the railroads have been doing for the last several years to pursue railroad interoperability for PTC deployment.

 

So! How can I/I be pursued given the lack of both appropriate executive bonuses and technologists?  The answer to this question is two-fold: 1. Education and 2. Process.  Both of these points will be addressed in the next two postings to the blog. So! Please check back into this blog during the next several weeks.

 

 

FTA: A Wave of the Finger

One of President Reagan’s qualities was his wit, including this glib quote: “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘ I’m from the government and I’m here to help.'”  When it comes to railroad operations and Federal formal involvement via regulation, there should be no question in anyone’s mind as to the critical role that the FRA provides in ensuring safe railroad operations. I’ve seen the horrific operations of railroads in countries, including my current assignment with the Egyptian National Railways to advise on their safety (including  PTC) and efficiency of operations, that are without such oversight.  However, there are upper and lower limits as to what the government can and should do. For example, the often-heard statement of “We have 0% tolerance for unsafe operations” by regulators is clearly not objective, yet alone achievable.  A more truthful statement, but with much less PR effectiveness, would be to state that the regulation of railroads is a tradeoff between costs and the level of safety achieved; a pursuit of diminishing returns.  It should not be a matter of safety at any price.

As to an upper limit of the Federal government intruding upon railroad operations, arguably the most abusive lately is the U.S. Federal government’s mandate to implement PTC before 2016. This knee-jerk reaction by Congress (with President Bush’s signature) to the horrific September 2009 accident between Metrolink and UP, was way over the line as to an objective, pragmatic understanding and thinking as to the safety value of PTC relative to the cost of its deployment. This was not a matter of irrational action on part of the FRA, who had in fact made an honest attempt a number of years earlier (with the participation of railroad management and Labor) to compare the safety benefits of PTC to its costs. That analysis left no doubt that PTC was not justified as to the safety benefits it delivered. That doesn’t mean that a railroad would not want to implement PTC from their individual perspective as is apparently true of BNSF’s pursuit of PTC prior to the mandate. As a side note when last checked, the FRA’s website still foolishly stated that PTC provides for business benefits. (For readers of this posting outside of the U.S., please note that PTC can be deployed in a cost-effective fashion. But that is not the case in the U.S. with technicians-gone-wild as discussed in other postings on this blog.)

So! Based upon my fuzzy feelings for the FRA, I foolishly thought that the same value points of the FRA would apply to the Federal Transit Authority (FTA).  How, so very wrong I was. Unlike the PTC mandate that was an over-kill as to Federal involvement, a recent PTC study RFP released by the FTA was a tremendous under-kill, if you will. The FTA is actually failing to take enough action to support the passenger rail operations with the activities required to meet the PTC 2016 deadline. That doesn’t mean that the FTA isn’t providing $s to provide assistance. Sadly, they are providing $s (as provided in the mandate) to engage contractors without any credible evidence of their capabilities other than knowing the right folks, In My Humble Opinion (IMHO) .  It seems to be the perfect example of the old chestnut: “It’s not what you know, but who you know.”

Without going into great depth, the PTC study RFP released at the end of 2010 had the following issues:

  1. It was poorly written given the objectives that were stated were both totally unnecessary (e.g. the study was to develop a template for a PTC Implementation Plan (PTCIP) that had already been accomplished 8 months prior, and incomplete in missing the primary challenges to be confronted by the transits.
  2. The RFP was specifically designed to deal with only one transit’s particular requirements, without the provisions to address the full spectrum of challenges, most notably the full spectrum of specific functionality that each transit requires for the use of PTC that are not being addressed by the freight railroads.
  3. The awarded contractor, University of Southern California (USC), has no known experience in PTC, yet alone primary railroad operations, IMHO.
  4. A clause was inserted in the RFP which prevented any competition, any consideration of credible proposals, other than that of the organization that Metrolink had selected as their desired contractor, IMHO. I refer to the following extraction from the RFP: the successful contractor must show that a “positive relationship (must exist) between grantee and the rail transit authority”. When Metrolink was approached to participate by at least one contractor, they were summarily rejected without any consideration of their credentials.  In short, by default, Metrolink made the decision which contractor would be awarded this contract without objective evaluation of the other proposals.
  5. APTA (the American Public Transit Association) that represents the interests of the transit industry overall, along with the individual transits subjected to the PTC mandate, have noted between themselves that the lengthy duration of the study, as well as the focus on Metrolink, provides no effective value to the other 20+ transits.

This FTA-funded study is in effect an outrageous $900,000 gift to the folks at USC to produce nearly no value relative to the major issues with which the other transits are confronted to implement PTC, most notably the proper use of wireless technologies and the functional issues of importance to the passenger rail industry for the deployment of PTC.

Lastly, when asked if they would consider a protest as to their selection process based upon the above, FTA’s response was a resounding NO.  Of course they would say that. It is embarrassing enough as to how they handled the situation without any further consideration on their part of the logic and legitimacy of how the study was both structured and awarded, IMHO.  This FTA study is a shameful example of what should not be taking place in our country. The U.S. tax dollars are being totally wasted. So! Does FTA have the intestinal fortitude to restructure , or kill, this currently meaningless study for the benefit of the industry that it serves?

As Cobert would say “A Wave of the Finger to FTA”.

Don’t Drink the Kool Aid

The elixir of fatuous rationalization being served up by PTC-220,LLC to gain more spectrum in the name of PTC has been poisoning the efforts of both freight and passenger operations to cost-effectively meet the mandated implementation of PTC before 2016.

Point 1: In May 20011, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) of the U.S. released WT Docket No 11-7, with Public Notice, regarding the “Spectrum Needs for the Implementation of the PTC Provisions of the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008”. Subsequently, in addition to my written response, a number of submissions were made by various parties, most notably several passenger operations and PTC-220, LLC (the entity owned by BNSF, CSX, NS, and UP that owns and manages the 220 MHz spectrum to be used for the implementation of PTC).  The FCC’s Docket was the result of the request by PTC-220 to obtain additional spectrum in the same band reportedly to service both the freight and passenger rail requirements of the PTC mandate.

Point 2: At the end of 2010, the Federal Transit Authority (FTA) released several RFQ’s for studies to be performed relative to PTC and CBTC. The primary study was to evaluate the issues associated with implementing PTC on commuter and regional rail systems. As I will be explaining in a posting I will be making shortly, this effort by the FTA is a very pathetic example of how a Federal agency can spend a fair amount of money and achieve nearly nothing of interest to the intended recipients. The proposal was poorly written as to both objectives and understanding of the subject,  along with a process for evaluating and awarding the contract that was clearly inappropriate and unfair. (Yes! My team’s proposal was not selected. But, I will explain the madness of the process in the forthcoming posting). The point for now is that in preparing the proposal, my team discussed the wireless issues with a number of passenger operators and gained some understanding in a very short period of time as to the concerns that they have as to the use of 220 for PTC.

To be addressed in greater detail in the forthcoming issue of my quarterly journal, Full Spectrum, titled Wireless Gone Awry, I will highlight below a number of points as well as statements  that PTC-220 made in their submission to the FCC’s Public Hearing, that are critical to understand in consideration of providing more 220 to PTC-220.

  • First of all, I am not saying that PTC-220 is incorrect in requesting more spectrum if they really need it.  However, by their own admission, they really don’t know what they need in that they have not done any credible data modeling relative to PTC. They are spectrum hungry and may even be looking at this spectrum as a “for profit” operation for dealing with the passenger operators.

 

  • In their submission, PTC-220 likened PTC to advanced traffic control / management systems and the need for complex wireless networks to service the latter. I find such a comparison either to be shamelessly naïve or quite devious.

 

  • The passenger operators have been led to believe by PTC-220, reportedly, that they must obtain 220 specifically for their own property to be compatible with the freight railroads. Hence, from some of the submissions by passenger operations, it appears that they were pressured, or unfairly influenced, to support PTC-220’s position. The requirement to use 220 only is clearly incorrect and could be very costly for those operators that will be extremely pressed to find the public funds to implement PTC.

 

  • PTC-220 states that they had engaged TTCI (which is operated by the AAR and hardly free of conflict of interest), to perform data modeling nearly 6 months prior to the submission, and yet there were no results that they could include in the submission. Really? I have team members that could handle that analysis quite quickly.

 

  • The onboard PTC platform, a.k.a. TMC, incorporates a Mobile Access Router (MAR) that supports the use of alternative wireless paths, including 220, WiFi, and cellular.

 

  • The rail industry is poorly utilizing a fair amount of spectrum, including conventional 160 MHz instead of trunked operation, 44 MHz now owned by PTC-220 and which was the choice of BNSF for PTC, and 900 MHz that was given to the railroads 2 decades ago to do ATCS.  ATCS was never implemented and the railroads have used the spectrum for business purposes instead of giving the spectrum back (BTW, using 900 for code line is a business decision and not a safety one).

 

In summary as to the above, PTC-220 should be required to define their requirements clearly and with the proper level of legitimate data analysis done by an independent entity.  As a point of further consideration, there is also a need to break down that requirement as to the type of traffic control involved as well as traffic density.  For example, deploying PTC across dark territory has a substantially different wireless requirement than deploying PTC across signaled territory with either medium or heavy traffic volumes. In short, there is a need to identify various PTC “wireless corridors” as to throughput and coverage requirements, and to model them individually.

In addition to my initial submission, I made a subsequent submission commenting on the falsehoods and misrepresentation that were made in some of the other submissions, most notably PTC-220.  Additionally, 2 weeks ago I made a presentation to the FCC to provide them with a modicum of rail domain knowledge that would assist them in understanding the true requirements of wireless for PTC.

Both of my submissions as well as the presentation to the FCC were on a fee basis for a client, Skybridge Foundation.  SBF placed no restrictions on what I wrote / presented, and did not interfere with the objectivity of my material. Both of those submissions and a PDF of my presentation are of public record and can be obtained via the FCC’s website or by emailing a request to me at comarch@aol.com. Additionally, those individuals that seek to further understand wireless corridors are encouraged to contact me on that topic as well.

Risqué Assessment – PTC

In designing and implementing safety systems, risk assessments are made to identify and mitigate unsafe situations so as to ensure a certain level of safety is achieved (a level of risk is not exceeded). For traditional railroad signaling systems, each supplier in the North America has developed its individual qualitative approach referred to as V & V (validation & verification) for evaluating their respective systems. That is, the V&V process is meant to validate that the right thing is being done, and then verify that it was done correctly. For electrical / mechanical components and systems, such an approach makes sense.  But, when a most complex and highly unpredictable variable such as the human is introduced as part of the system, then the V&V process is not sufficient; the risk assessment process becomes much more risqué.

 

The design and implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC) has taken the traditional signaling suppliers outside of their comfort zone for risk assessment. With PTC designed to prevent the failures of humans to operate their trains within the limits of the active movement authorities, means that a qualification process has to be complimented with a quantitative process as well.  But, if humans are so unpredictable as to both the types and occurrence of errors that can be made, then how can even a quantification process be established?  Actually, the process is quite straightforward. It’s a matter of simulating the environment to be evaluated over an extensive period of time and/or iterations, and to use historical data as to the type and degree of threats that may occur.  The reason for the extensive time period and/or iterations is to provide for the randomness of events so as to ensure a statistically sound analysis.

 

Risk relative to evaluating PTC was defined by the Railroad Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC) to be the severity multiplied by the likelihood of the train being coincident in time and space with an unsafe condition. RSAC was composed of a mixture of regulators, rail management, labor, and supplier personnel, and one of their responsibilities was to evaluate a risk assessment process that was being specifically designed for PTC. Referred to as the Axiomatic Safety Critical Assessment Program (ASCAP), this tool was to be a very straightforward simulation program that could have readily provided a more than adequate analysis of PTC reducing risk – which everyone already intuitively understood anyhow.  I mean, if PTC eliminates the most dangerous source of train accidents, again human errors, then it’s a winner (assuming it doesn’t introduce any significant risk – and it doesn’t). Of course, the regulators can’t accept intuitive analysis. They need the mathematical proof, and hence ASCAP.

 

You noticed that I said that ASCAP could have been a great tool. But, it failed to be delivered due to extremely poor management of resources.  I am not referring to ASCAP’s developers, but rather to involvement by the RSAC participants that continuously battered the developers with “insights” and additional requirements of how to make the ASCAP simulate a railroad to the greatest exactness possible. What they failed to understand was that the error associated with simulating human-based events was much greater than correcting for the acceleration of a sample train from a railroad yard, for example.The bottom line here is that the RSAC advisors who were lacking in sound mathematical principles, including Operations Research (OR), and simple pragmatic analytical tools turned a straightforward simulation tool into an unachievable, complex quagmire of code. What was missing was a manager experienced in OR with railroad domain knowledge that could have separated the RSAC’s advisors appropriate advice from the fatuous comments.

 

ASCAP failed due to poor management and not due to its concepts or principles. Simulation is a quantification risk assessment approach that eliminates the risqué-ness in risk assessment processes involving humans.

PTC Interchangeability

The concept of interoperability is relatively new to the rail industry as railroads link their operations within and across country boundaries. In fact, the lack of interoperability between various European countries in the past century was a purposeful defense mechanism against invading armies that could use railways for rapid, massive troop and weapon movements. Now, interoperbility has been the driving force for deploying ETCS across Europe for the past decade or so.  And in the U.S., interoperability is currently the most costly and exasperating aspect of delivering Positive Train Control to meet the U.S. government’s mandate of it being implemented across most of the country’s trackage before 2016. Specifically as to PTC, the Interoperable Train Control (ITC) committees that are primarily manned by CSX, NS, UP, & BNSF have been working intensely to address issues such as system architecture, on-board functionality, message set, communication network, data management, and an all-encompassing method of operation.  However, what has not been addressed is dealing with the set of parameters that provide for interchangeability, i.e., the ability to exchange a component or entire on-board PTC unit when not on the owning railroad’s property. Actually, this can even be an issue within an individual railroad as is currently the case with one Class I railroad that has an inventory of on-board units with 8 different model #s.  Clearly, as the railroads begin to implement PTC, the challenges of interchangeability, and hence the costs, if not handled properly very soon, are going to grow exponentially.

 

The parameters of interchangeability include the physical dimensions, electrical interfaces, as well as ensuring software and hardware compatibility at both the component and platform level.  Perhaps some folks think that the issue of PTC interchangeability will not be that significant given that Wabtec is the only supplier of the on-board Train Management Computer (TMC).  However, that point is quickly dismissed based upon a number of other considerations, including

  • Other suppliers are looking to compete with Wabtec as to the TMC;
  • Again, one Class I railroad already has 8 different model #’s for the Wabtec TMC;
  • Railroads will want to ensure that a foreign unit is properly configured as to software and hardware;
  • Railroads will want assurance as to a long-term supply of components and units;
  • There is a vast number of individual locomotive configurations;
  • Proprietary backplanes work against the railroads’ best interests in most cost-effectively deploying on-board systems;
  • Lastly, given that industry politics seemingly are always at play, there are bound to be conflicts within the “standards” that are being provided by ITC. BTW, what about the one most critical standard that is not being provided by ITC.  I refer to the TMC source code.  More on this latter.

 

Volume 59 of my quarterly publication, Full Spectrum, that will be released around October 1st this year, will be addressing interchangeability in substantial detail as to the challenges and the opportunities.

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Strategic Railroading™
Given recent tech advances there is now an unprecedented opportunity to advance railroad operations and the integration of high speed rail with freight. Real-time traffic management and communication is possible without significant development and deployment costs, but it will take a technology strategy working hand-in-hand with an operational strategy, it will take Strategic Railroading.™
Full Spectrum - Quarterly Journal

Full Spectrum is a quarterly railroading journal authored by Mr. Ron Lindsey. The majority of executives in the US railroad industry, including top members of the FRA and the major railroads, have subscribed to Full Spectrum for the past fifteen years.

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