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Posts Tagged ‘PTC’

Shaken! Not Stirred

About 20 years ago there was a cartoon in The New Yorker, a monthly periodical best known, arguably, by non- New York City residents for its cartoons.  This cartoon showed two wealthy gentlemen (in the style of the Monopoly game millionaire) lounging in the bar car of a passenger train with their martinis. (I think of them as Reginald and Wilfred).  Reginald states:  “This is a lousy martini. (pause) This is a Hell of a way to run a railroad”.

Being a martini enthusiast (only gin of course),  I can appreciate the nuance of making such an evaluation.

Back then, this now-shallow perspective was in actuality one credible way to evaluate passenger and freight rail operations in that it was “take or leave it” from the railroads’ perspective of running their railroads. That is, railroads provided the service that they wanted to provide given their monopolistic position as to transport.  However, beginning with the availability of the interstate roads during the Eisenhower administration, followed by the passing of the Staggers Act in 1980 that deregulated the freight railroads as to the price that they could charge for services, there was a gradual, but sustained shift to the customer’s perspective. That is, with these two major game changes of the interstate road infrastructure and the Staggers Act, entered competition not only between rail and truck transport, but also competition between railroads.

In the last several decades, both passenger but primarily freight railroads have taken on a different perspective; a perspective on what technologies can deliver to make a railroad’s operation both more safe and efficient. I must state first of all, that US railroads, both passenger and freight, are extraordinarily safe, especially when compared to operations across the globe. (See previous posting “ What Price Safety” for some additional insight on this point.  But, I need to go back to the martini point.)

There are martinis, and there are martinis. James Bond’s infamous standard of “Shaken, not stirred” makes the point. But first, I should note that based upon an independent analysis of literature regarding James Bond’s life style, it has been determined that he was quite a drinker with his consumption of an average of 45 martinis within a given week. OK, so that is 6 +martinis a night which makes him somewhat suspect as to his objective credibility as quoted by Dorothy Parker of Algonquin Round Table fame:  “ I like to have a martini, Two at the very most, After Three I’m under the table, after four I’m under the host.” So!  6+ martinis in an evening is clearly past the line.

The point of shaken, not stirred, can be applied to railroad operations, me thinks.  The difference between the two versions of martini preparations is that if a martin is shaken, then the ice can “bruise” the gin, where as stirred is like “Whatever, don’t mess with my gin.” Therefore, the parallel to railroads, you may ask, is that railroads have only been stirring their operational processes for the last several decades, at least, by simply upgrading their primary core technologies, i.e. communications, positioning, and IT, most noticeably with the shift from analog to digital, and the integration of distributed decision making platforms with the back-office infrastructure. But, railroads have not truly shaken up their business processes, a.k.a. process reengineering (dynamic work order is a good example), to take advantage of how the operation can change with advancements in technologies. Arguably, the most critical example is that of the management of train movements as to the underlying means of functional vitality (how movement authorities are generated) and the efficiency that an be achieved with more timely and accurate positioning of trains to advance from crisis-based fixed block operation to that of proactive, flexible block.

In this light, the passing of the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 that mandates PTC deployment across most of the freight and transit rail operations in the U.S. has been both a blessing and a curse. That is, the PTC mandate is forcing the railroads to deploy an industry-based wireless data platform with mobile IT platforms on locomotives. That’s super. But, the over-engineering of PTC and the lack of technology strategy across the industry, has dampened the progressive advancement of business processes that can use these technologies.  Simply state, there is no business strategy in sync with a technology strategy, a.k.a. Strategic Railroading, in most of the railroads, yet alone with an industry perspective for freight operations.

So! Do you want to shake things up in your railroad – or your client railroads if you are a supplier? Or do you just want to stir the same old stuff, the same old processes, albeit with upgraded technologies? If you want to shake things up, then consider what can be done with virtual positioning and wireless data technologies.  For one example, click on the VCTC category on the right side on the home page of this blog and review the postings.

Finally, permit me to add my personal notes on gin. With my 46 years of legally enjoying gin across the globe, I offer my following evaluation of several:

  • Bombay Sapphire: a classic, a standard, not insulting to anyone.
  • Hendricks: Just too much rose – only good for 1 a month
  • Blue Coat: made in the U.S and excellent, but then again keep it down to several week if you drink your martinis dry.
  • Gibson: my favorite when in France – can’t find it in the U.S.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I should note that I wrote this posting while drinking wine only. Wine is for thinking and writing … and Martinis are for neither.

What Price Safety ?

On December 1, 2013, there was an accident on the Metro North Railroad (MNR) that resulted in 4 fatalities. In some 30 years of operation, this was the first accident on the railroad that resulted in passenger fatalities: quite a phenomenal record for any form of passenger transport. The source of the accident was the failure of the driver to reduce the speed of his train on a curve with the train flying off the track. The reason for his failure was, according to the driver, his dozing off.

There are actually two systems available on MNR to prevent accidents due to such driver errors with a third system due before 2016. However, neither of the current systems could be used by that given train on that given portion of track.  First, there is an alertness system that requires the driver to perform some action (e.g., touch a button) with a certain frequency (e.g., every 25 seconds) to silence an alarm and prevent an automatic brake application.  However, for this train that system was available in the locomotive in the front of the train, whereas the driver was operating from a position in the rear of the train. Second, unlike freight railroads that use wayside signaling, MNR (and many transits) uses cab signaling which in addition to knowing block occupancy and track divergence can include civil speed enforcement if such data is provided to the on-board platform. For that portion of track, there was no such data provided –that would have permitted the cab-signaling platform to enforce.  But, there is now.   Now, with the mandate to implement Positive Train Control (PTC), there will be a third enforcement approach that will prevent accidents due to driver errors including overspeeding anywhere along the track, passing the physical boundary of the movement authority, moving through misaligned switches, and entering a work zone without permission.

So! What price safety? Without any hard figures to back me up, my experience tells me the following:

  1. Alerterness systems are relatively inexpensive, but also somewhat limited as to safety value;
  2. Cab signaling is a no-brainer for transits. It is both a traffic control (versus very costly wayside signaling) and an enforcement system, although somewhat limited when compared to PTC.
  3. PTC is extremely expensive, but the most comprehensive in preventing accidents. However, as has been demonstrated by independent parties, the Cost / Value ratio of PTC across the rail industry is quoted at 20 to 1 for a 20 year period. However, my personal view is that the ratio is more likely 10 to 1 if the freight railroads’ technicians had not done such an irresponsible technical and functional overdesign of PTC (postings on this point are available by clicking on the PTC category on the right side of the home page.)

So! Perhaps a better questions is: Who should pay for a mandated system whose cost far exceeds its value?  In the case of the transits with both alertness systems and cab signaling there is another question that has not been answered to my knowledge: What is the true Cost / Value ratio for transits given that PTC provides incremental increase in safety given the use of alerterness systems and cab signaling?  This analysis would result in a higher Cost / Value ratio. And, does a government-owned entity really want to spend that kind of money for that incremental safety benefit?

Now, to the ridiculous of What price safety?  On the day following the MNR accident, I was contacted by CNN to see if I would be willing to be interviewed by Brooke Baldwin during her 2-4 PM show. They had interviewed me previously regarding the horrific train accident in Spain in July, also due to operator error as to overspeeding on a curved section of track. (As a side note, my colleague Dave Schanoes handled the evening show on CNN for both the Spain and MNR accident.) I was asked if I could discuss the use of seat belts on trains as well as federal regulation regarding train safety. After a silent gasp of “REALLY, you’re serious?”, I thought I was clear with them that I need not address the issue of seat belts, but surely no problem with the regulatory issues.  So! Guess how the 3 minute interview went.  The first question asked by Ms. Baldwin:  ” Ron, let’s just cut to it. Is it about time that we have seat belts on trains?”  With a smile I replied “That’s a very interesting point.” and went on to get the conversation back to a rational understanding that we run a safe railroad … and so on….  and that PTC is not justified.  Closing with “What cost safety?”  click here to see interview: cnn interview

Just as the mandate of PTC was a knee-jerk reaction by Congress to the Metrolink / UP accident in September, 2008, I have little doubt that there is some local, state, and/or Federal politician that would like to run with the seat belt concept.

 

THINK

When I joined IBM in 1970 as a Marketing Representative to sell computers, I was presented with a 10 inch plaque for my desk that simply stated “THINK”.  I still have that plaque on my desk.  Since that time of the commercial introduction of computers, corporate America has been proceeding through 3 stages of THINK as to their business environment. As addressed below, the U.S. freight rail industry has kept pace with the first two stages of Digital and Process Reengineering to a respectable extent, but the railroads have yet to fully embrace the 3rd stage, Connectivity, which is extremely critical for railroads to manage their primary reliance on mobile resources, both individually and collectively as an industry.

1: Digital

With the marketing of computers in the 70s, IBM realized that its first primary challenge was to educate its clients’ executives as to the opportunity to use computers to replace the straightforward processes that were handled by clerks, e.g., payroll, inventory update, accounts receivables / payables, etc.  These sequential processes of updating data bases were readily handled by the predominance of magnetic tape-based, sequential record data bases. THINK back then was how to make the business case for top-level management to lease these intimidating physical electronic monsters (purchase was not an option at that time with IBM).

 

To take on this challenge of converting manual (analog) processes to digital ones, IBM was hiring two basic types of disciplines, i.e., MBA’s and teachers. The former (which I was) were used to provide the business case, e.g., the discounted present value of advancing a business process, and the latter were used to present the business case.  With the phenomenal amount of Sales School training that IBM provided to its marketing personnel at that time, these two disciplines were blended to provide an unprecedented marketing force. We didn’t have PowerPoint, of course, but we were well trained on paper “flip chart” presentations that permitted us to efficiently make our “bullet” presentations to client executives.

 

As a side point, IBM’s Marketing Representatives were also trained on basic marketing/sales concepts such as

  • Shut up once you asked a question of the client so as to permit that individual to reach his / her own conclusion based upon what you had presented;
  • Once the executive agreed to the sale, you introduced no additional thoughts;
  • It takes 10 cold calls to close 1 deal;
  • Do not disparage a competitor directly. However, one could state demonstrated truisms, e.g., “Burrough’s computers perform 1/3 slower on your accounts receivables as demonstrated by the benchmark test that we performed with your data.” If you violated this principle, then it was very likely that you were soon on the street.
  • One never had alcohol at lunch  – unless the customer insisted, at which point you didn’t go back to your office or to that of your clients;  and
  • One dressed based upon the dress code of the customer – as long as it was a dark suit and a white shirt.

While IBM set the high water mark for ethical behavior in the Data Processing industry (the phrase for Information Technology back then), if not elsewhere, there was no question as to the benefit of such behavior including a most important advantage that an IBM business card would get you pass the secretary of almost any executive. Those were the good ole days, in that marketing was above board. Again, an IBMer would be fired immediately if s/he violated IBM’s sense of business ethics; ethics that were and are still unmatched in the US business (and political) environment in my opinion.

At this point in time, THINK was more about hardware than it was about software. Within a decade or so, the perspective of THINK advanced to Stage 2 with the transition from sequential tape processing to that of dynamic, direct access to data via affordable disk drives and the associated advancement in software.

2: Process Reengineering

For the last several decades, the concept of THINK has been all about functional understanding of what a business process is attempting to achieve. Some readers may recall the rush to Process Reengineering in the 90s. Simply explained, process reengineering meant reTHINKing how processes were handled as to workflows given the use of computer processing and wired telecommunications that integrated otherwise disparate entities in a company. This was a holistic perspective of the company and, in selected cases, an industry. However, the ability to reengineer processes was most often directly related to the ability to use wired communications between the sub-entities for the purpose of distributed, but integrated processing. However, for industries that are primarily about managing mobile resources, e.g., railroads, process reengineering was greatly limited in that a wired path can’t be attached to a locomotive. As a side point, IBM had developed an extraordinary concept of Business System Processing (BSP), a.k.a. Information System Processing (ISP) that proceeded process reengineering by 2 decades to optimize data storage. I have a posting on BSP that can be found by clicking on the category of Strategic Railroad on the right side of the home page and paging down to It Takes an Industry: Process, April 14, 2012.

3: Connectivity

With the ubiquitous availability of wireless data networks now, whether commercial or private, the 3rd state of THINK now also includes who “THEY” are that are involved in the functionality. This is an issue of connectivity, with a minor in functionality. For railroads this means tightly integrating the management of its trains, crews, locomotives, and maintenance with the back office systems based upon a very simple principle: “Where are my trains (I mean really where are trains other than just a block), AND at what speed are they traveling. This is all about running a truly-scheduled operation. The ultimate, but largely unachievable, example of this is moving block. But, short of that is the role of Proactive Traffic Management (PTM) that minimizes the consequences of traffic conflicts in dense corridors, and that can support “flexible block” operations versus the inefficiency of fixed block operations with traditional CTC operations. I have a posting on PTM that can be found by clicking on the category Strategic Railroading on the right side of the home page, and paging down to Degrees of Separation, December 26, 2012.

 

With the mandate of PTC, the freight rail industry has been forced to develop an industry-wide wireless network, which is clearly the true value of the PTC mandate given that our freight railroads are already extraordinarily safe. For those individuals that are still confused about the business benefits of PTC, please, please understand that PTC does not deliver business benefits. It is the availability of a wireless data network required for PTC implementation that can provide those benefits – as evidence by NS and BNSF, at least, that are achieving those fatuously proclaimed PTC benefits by some misguided individuals without the implementation of PTC.

An article of mine is scheduled to be published in the forthcoming C&S issue of Railway Age, and it will describe the pursuit of this stage, not just from an individual railroad standpoint, but also as what can be done to increase the efficiency of the U.S. freight rail industry. The underlying principle here is that a railroad is limited to its ability to run to schedule if the railroads with which it interconnects are not running to schedule, and visa versa.  In my opinion this Catch 22 can best be resolved by 2 means. First, railroads require PTM (with a glazing of flexible block), and Second, the annual bonuses of railroad executive must include a performance measurement as to Industry Efficiency. However, it is unlikely that the pursuit of industry efficiency will happen until there is a true Strategic Industry Railroading perspective that involves all of the Class Is.  So! Who will provide that industry strategy?  Hmmmmmm! It appears that there is a role for an independent consultant. Please call: (904) 386 3082.

Next Generation Operating Systems

As the result of the study that my consultancy completed in Egypt in December 2012 to advance the safety and efficiency of the Egyptian National Railways (ENR), there is now what I refer to as the Next Generation of an integrated Traffic Control, Traffic Management, and Enforcement systems. That is, Virtual CTC (VCTC) uses advancing technologies such as wireless data and virtual positioning, in concert with a CTC-type back office, to deliver tremendous safety and efficiency capability at a mere fraction of the cost that would be required for conventional or advanced signaling such as ETCS and CBTC.

The video below places VCTC in perspective to the traffic control, traffic management, and enforcement systems across the globe and addresses how both railroads and suppliers may want to pursue its development and deployment.

The Goods, The Bads, & The Uglies

THE GOODS

Given my now–completed engagement in Egypt to design a new traffic control, traffic management, and enforcement system, titled Virtual CTC + Enforcement, for the majority of the Egyptian National Railways (ENR), I have an even increased appreciation of 2 primary GOODs of railroad operations in the U.S. that do not exist in Egypt and many other countries across the globe. First, U.S. railroads are privately-owned in a capitalistic society that promotes the investment in those operations based upon the bottom financial line, simply stated as optimizing the return on investment. Second, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) provides the regulatory oversight without which inscrutable railroad operators have and could tradeoff the bottom safety line for the financial one. This blend of regulated safety and fiduciary responsibility has well serviced the railroads and the public alike since the Staggers Act of 1980 that deregulated the railroad market. As such, I dare say that nearly every decision by the railroads is a financial one, including those that deal with safety issues alone and not operations. Arguably, however, there here have been several exceptions as is the case of BNSF’s pursuit of PTC.

For most railroads, PTC as an overlay system, was never seriously considered to be a pursuit given that the costs of deploying PTC far, far exceed the projected safety benefits. The first PTC system, CSX’s CBTM for which I was the architect, was pursued because its engineer was at fault in the 1996 Silver Spring, MD accident in which there were 11 fatalities.  Especially given the accident’s location within the DC Beltway, CSX feared that Feds would force some type of  driver-enforcement system, and the only system being tested at that time was a pathetically over-designed concept referred to as Precision  Train Control. This PTC was not an overlay, enforcement-only concept. This PTC was an overly ambitious and, at the time, technically-unachievable moving block concept. Hence, CSX’s decision was a defensive one to develop a pragmatic approach, and that I did with CBTM providing the foundation for the overlay PTC systems being pursued to meet the Federal mandate. Subsequent to CSX’s efforts, BNSF expanded on CBTM’s scope of dark territory to include signaled territory, and it did so because “it was the right thing to do!” according to one BNSF top executive. There did not seem to be any immediate financial justification for BNSF’s efforts . . . except for a possible hidden agenda to move to one-man crews at some point. Nonetheless, BNSF had seemingly made a too-rare decision to invest in safety for safety sake without the immediate financial justification.

 

THE BADS

The other railroads were clearly not following the leads of CSX and BNSF. The business case was clearly not there to make such a financial investment. However, those individuals and organizations that wanted PTC at any cost promoted analyses and statements about the business benefits of improved asset management (e.g., track time, capacity, locomotives, crews) that PTC could reportedly provide so as to falsely justify their position.  These individuals and organizations were without the willingness, perhaps intelligence, to understand the difference between traffic control and enforcement. Simply explained, traffic control generates movement authorities and therefore is the means of achieving asset management effectiveness.  PTC only uses the parameters of the authorities generated to provide enforcement. With the simplest of understanding and rational thinking, one will realize that it is the ability of a locomotive to reports its position AND speed that supports more effective generation of movement authorities, which determines the management of railroad’s assets. To provide locomotive position and speed data simply requires a wireless data path, which happens to be a requirement of PTC as well. But, a railroad does not need PTC to get the wireless data path, as readily demonstrated recently by several Class Is that are obtaining those alleged PTC business benefits without PTC.  Nonetheless, after very credible reports from both private and government entities that belie the existence of PTC business benefits, there are still lingering comments that surface occasionally claiming the business benefits of PTC. For example, it has only been in the last year that the FRA finally removed such fatuous statements from its Website.

The net of the above is that BNSF initiated and continued its pursuit of PTC for altruistic reasons, it seems, while CSX did so to prevent a mandate of an overly expensive, if even achievable, enforcement solution. But that truly was it for the industry until the end of 2008 even though were occasional meetings of AAR technical committees with purported PTC interests.

Even with the regulatory processes in the U.S. for primary industries such as the railroads, the Congress can bypass the regulators and create laws without consideration of the bottom line of the corporations affected. Such is the case with the Railroad Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (RSIA) that was a knee-jerk reaction in less than 2 months following the horrific Metrolink / UP collision in September of that year that resulted in 25 fatalities.  This Act mandated the implementation of PTC across major segments of freight and passenger operations.

So! What do the various parties do when 1. They (the Feds) want something at any cost, a cost that they don’t have to pay … or … 2. They (the RRs) are being forced to make very substantial investments in systems that are not cost justified, but are mandated to do so for the sake of zero tolerance for unsafe operations. Simply stated, “What price safety?” … and “Who pays the tab?” This is where it gets ugly.

 

THE UGLIES

When so confronted with Congressional mandates, a company has the choice to pay the price, pull up stakes, fight the action through the courts,  ….  and / or   ….. to delay, lie, misdirect, fake it, and/or use lobbyists to influence the Congress to amend such mandates in some fashion.  In the case of the PTC mandate of RSIA, those railroads other than BNSF, and possibly CSX, have clearly demonstrated an amazing amount misdirection, faking it, if not just outright lying, to obtain at least delays in the PTC mandate. The high mark of this activity to date was the NTSB conference on PTC, February 27, 2013.  I did not attend the conference, but I have reviewed the presentations of the various speakers, and provide below my perspective on both the credible and irresponsible, if not mischievous, points that were made.

Having been involved with PTC from the beginning, even before the FRA RSAC-PTC process a decade or so ago, I know most of the presenting individuals very well and could “hear” their oratory as I reviewed the decks. Hence, I was not surprised by most of the points made, but yet saddened and angered at what the railroaders find necessary to do to attempt to avoid the unjustifiable expense of PTC. Simply stated, they seemed obligated for their company’s sake (if not their job) to purposely mislead, misrepresent, and even lie about critical points that they believed would helpful in delaying the implementation of PTC and its tremendous capital outlay. At the same time, I was surprised and gladdened by some of the reversals in falsehoods that had been made by railroaders following the mandate. Below, I summarize and separate the uglies and the reversals into 4 categories of PTC Functionality, and the primary technologies that are involved with PTC and other primary applications associated with a railroad’s operations:  Communications, Intelligence Processing, and Positioning.

PTC Functionality

  • One presenter, at least, noted that PTC is much more complicated than anyone expected. However, its not PTC that is complicated, but rather it is a combination of Interoperabitity and the over-engineered communication, positioning, and intelligence processing solutions that ITC has been developing unchecked by senior management as to costs per necessary objectives (as discussed further below).
  • Again, as discussed above, PTC has nothing to do with asset management and the associated business benefits (other than preventing occasional disruptions due to accidents).
  • The various forms of “vital” have been used in confusing ways across the industry in addressing PTC. In the early days of RSAC-PTC I introduced the concept of functional vitality to separate the purpose of PTC from that of traffic control systems, e.g., signaling, dark territory. To be short, PTC is not functionally vital in that it does not generate authorities. Nor does the PTC BOS need to be a vital, fail-safe system, with I refer to as hardware vitality. There is an argument, however, for making a fail-safe on-board system so as to minimize the occurrences of traffic congestion as a train limps to the next yard due to regulated speed restrictions due to non-working PTC systems.
  • The comparison of PTC to European ERTMS / ETCS is totally inappropriate and purposely misleading. ERTMS is an integrated traffic control/ traffic management/ and enforcement system designed for high speed / high density traffic.  PTC is an overlay system, meaning that it acts independently of the traffic control / management systems already in place. Hence, the complexity, costs, and timeliness of implementing ERTMS, which is functionally vital, provides NO points of comparison for overlay, non-functional vital PTC.
  • A PTC-reliability study performed by ARINC was mentioned as a point of concern. Really! ARINC has a tremendous potential conflict of interest with the railroads and is clearly not in a position to be declared objective.
  • Two years ago I was the Chairman of the first World PTC Congress. During that meeting I challenged the attendees, including FRA, suppliers, and Class I railroads to explain why it was necessary, or just important, to monitor and enforce intermediate signals.  No one has ever stepped up to that question other than retired FRA employees who stated it clearly wasn’t necessary. Of course, it isn’t necessary since PTC provides a braking curve to the end of the authority. Nonetheless, the railroads have added this significant complexity, and associated cost of additional WIUs, to meet this unnecessary requirement. Originally, the first estimate for WIUs following the mandate was 75,000.  It’s now down to 35,000, and I’m pushing for 20,000 at the most.
  • Early on in the RSAC-PTC process it was agreed that grade crossings should not be an enforcement objective.  The reason was two-fold. First, it’s the railroad property and therefore they should not have to pay for the necessary infrastructure.  Second, and arguably most important, the pure physics of bringing a freight train to a stop would mean an excessive amount of gate down time, thereby possibly increasing the risks of vehicles running around the gates.

Communications

  • Contrary to what was noted by several presenters, it is clear that there was no true analysis of the data requirements for PTC for the railroads to make an actual evaluation of the need for 220, especially over that of 160. This is admitted to in the filings by PTC-220 with the FCC, and as identified (and not contested by PTC-220) in my written statements to the FCC regarding the same filing. Both my statements and those of PTC-220 in its filing for more 220 spectrum are available upon request to me. When last checked, the FCC had rejected PTC-220’s request.  On a positive note, the presentation by NS regarding PTC-220 was refreshingly honest compared to those statements and filings under the previous UP presidency of that entity. The individual noted that there is no expected need for additional 220 spectrum for most of the railroad operations.
  • As to why 160 was not considered by the railroads for PTC has little to nothing to do with the amount of spectrum available. Rather it has to do with the way in which the railroads proceeded to meet a FCC requirement to “narrowband” the frequency. To be short, they pursued conventional channel assignments instead of using “trunking” which is critical for effective usage of the spectrum in metropolitan areas.
  • It should be noted that UP / NS purchased the 220 spectrum the year before the PTC mandate – before the MetroLink/UP accident. Why they purchased the spectrum is unclear, but given their resistance to voluntarily pursuing PTC, it is doubtful that they did it for PTC. It was after the mandate that BNSF and CSX were “persuaded” to forego their own communication solutions for PTC, each of which was much less robust, yet adequate, then the required wireless claims stated without proof by PTC-220. Subsequently, PTC-220 purchased Meteorcomm from BNSF to produce the locomotive radios even though Meteorcomm had neither the proven technical nor available manufacturing capabilities to provide the radios.

Intelligence Processing

  • The Back Office Server (BOS) was suggested to be a portion of the critical path to meet the deadline. In my opinion there are 3 possibilities that this could be, with only one that makes any sense at this point. First, the functionality of the BOS is very, very straightforward and has already been achieved by BNSF with some minor changes remaining due to changes in the operating rules to address interoperability, as agreed to by the railroads during the conference. Second, the concept of vitality, as to failing safe, is clearly a red hearing. An overlay system can hardly fail other than safe in that it doesn’t generate authorities and instead only targets based upon the authorities generated. Even more misleading, one presenter likened the vitality of the BOS to the vitality of the European ERTMS. This is a purposeful misdirection. The vitality of ERTMS is that of the generation of authorities and the integration of the enforcement processes.  PTC is an overlay only and the functional vitality of generating authorities does not exist. Only the third reason has any merit. That is, linking the BOS with the individual Traffic Control systems in place for each railroad could be difficult. This is not due to technical reasons, but due to social/political conflicts that may exist between any given railroad and the suppliers involved, most importantly Ansaldo, formerly Union Switch & Signal. While Wabtec’s and Ansaldo’s HQs are only miles apart in Pittsburgh, their mindsets and willingness to cooperate between themselves and the railroads involved could span oceans, if you will.
  • PTC is locomotive-centric, meaning that all processing of data for enforcement takes place within the on-board computer. Normally, this would not need to be stated, but the fact that the conference included a presentation on ARES suggests that someone thought there was some value in understanding the pursuit and the ultimate rejection of ARES.  To be clear, ARES was a clever traffic control and traffic management concept that integrated some PTC-like enforcement capability in the back office systems for signaled territory. However, it really has nothing to do with locomotive-centric, overlay PTC systems that are designed for both dark and signaled operations.  CBTM established the threshold for PTC, and the Singularly Disillusioned individual (SD) that has been inappropriately promoting both the supposed vitality and business benefits of PTC based upon his ARES experiences has actually done some harm in advancing PTC in a credible fashion, as exemplified by the horrendous FRA-funded report on PTC benefits performed by ZetaTech several years ago.

Positioning

  • I didn’t note any significant comments regarding the issues of positioning, other than those of SD in the ARES presentation. Again, his comments are way out of fashion as to his focus on DGPS, as well as the fact that it was in my designing of CBTM that I introduced the monitoring of switch position in dark territory for “routing” trains, and which subsequently became relevant for the 4th objective of PTC of preventing movement through misaligned switches.
  • From my previous evaluation of ITC activities for a client, it became clear that the ITC technicians were way over-designing the accuracy of the positioning platform – I mean way, way overdesigning. The major effect of this is excessive cost for the on-board platform that could be in the range of $10,000 to $20,000 per locomotive, hence raising the cost of nation-wide PTC by several $100 millions

I would like to think that the NTSB recognizes that a number of presentations made at the conference to support an extended implementation period were highly prejudiced and even purposely misleading in some cases. Fortunately, PTC is beyond the need to evaluate the feasibility of its functional capabilities.  PTC does work. The primary constraints that are being presented by the railroads are a technical nature, as noted above.  Hence, if NTSB requires an objective analysis of PTC implementation issues, it requires a Blue-Ribbon Technical Committee, independent of the FRA, the railroads, and the likely suppliers, that can make such evaluations. The railroads will likely object to such evaluations. But, cannot any extension in time for the mandate be made conditional on such evaluations?

 

Outside of North America

For those railroads outside of North America that may be considering some type of enforcement system, e.g., V-CTC + Enforcement in Egypt, the above discussion as to the cost / benefit analysis of PTC does not likely apply. For example, the V-CTC + Enforcement system that I designed will prevent accidents due to mechanical interlocking operators and level crossing guards. In fact, my presentation of the final system design of V-CTC + Enforcement to Egypt’s MOT / ENR officials in December, 2012 was delayed several weeks due to two accidents, one each regarding the interlocking operator and crossing guard, that resulted in 5 and 50 fatalities respectively. V-CTC + Enforcement would have prevented those accidents; PTC as designed for the U.S. would not. Accordingly, Egypt’s Prime Minister directed MOT / ENR the following day to proceed with testing V-CTC + Enforcement.

 

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.

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.

High … or Higher … Speed Passenger Rail

The U.S. freight railroads are caught up in their own hype at this point.  They like to state how scheduled they are, when in fact they aren’t. Now, with the threat … err opportunity . . .  to integrate high speed passenger rail into those fine schedules so as to receive a bunch of Federal funds, they may have to fess up as to the true lack of scheduling. Well, maybe not. Perhaps the Feds will buy into the idea that if the railroads add more infrastructure, arguably sidings being the most popular, the freight railroads will be able to squeeze in those high speed passenger trains between the freight slugs. Really? Not a chance.  There may be an opportunity for Higher speed passenger rail, but clearly not High Speed Rail as enjoyed across a good portion of the globe outside of North America. The basic truth is that the only way to achieve High speed passenger rail is with so-dedicated track, save the 1-5 A.M window.

What is being missed by the Feds and several of the Class I’s is what can be done by investing in positioning technologies and mathematical tools, in lieu of additional trackage, to improve the effective capacity of the railroads’ current infrastructure instead of just the raw capacity. What is missing by several of Class I’s is how to complement (not replace) their current dispatching platforms (a.k.a. CAD) with execution platforms infused with mathematical planners fed by both timely train position and speed data via simplistic wireless data systems, whether commercial or private. (And don’t forget those OS reports). These are the type of data that are being fatuously promoted as a subsequent capability of PTC, when in fact it has nothing to do with PTC. It can be done NOW with or without PTC. This is really simple stuff, but railroad technicians are not expected, capable, or interested in focusing on the functionality and the business case of advancing technologies. Rather, their interest, their responsibility, is to deliver the ultimate systems whether they are required or not in the name of PTC interoperability. So be it!

I think the following quote of a quote in a recent on-line posting by John Boyd of the Journal of Commerce regarding the criteria for Federal funds being provided to freight railroads to incorporate high speed rail, is quite revealing.

Szabo (FRA Administrator) now says the agreements must include quantifiable service outcomes based onmutually agreed upon analysis / modeling that includes trip times, train frequencies and schedule reliability to the extent it is under a party’s control.

There are a number of key points being promoted in this quote, but arguably the most important is that of the last 4 words, i.e., “ under a party’s control.” Simply stated, the Class I’s don’t have control over a significant part of their “schedules”. But what they won’t admit to themselves, it seems, is that the need to dynamically schedule the lineup continuously is their own fault as to mutually-abusive railroad interchange, as well as specific customers, e.g., mines, that determine when the trains will run. The railroads don’t seem to understand that their lack of credible customer service is at fault here; the shippers are simply protecting themselves.

For more in-depth understanding of the above, you may want to consider obtaining the next issue of my quarterly publication, Full Spectrum, Volume 55, titled Buerre Manié which addresses the above in further detail along with other things you may want to consider.

Please contact me via the contact form or directly at ron@strategicrailroading.com, if you wish to discuss further.

___________

Operability’s Dimensions

Capitalizing on RR Industry Intra-Operability

Any Class I railroad’s Chief Engineer can quickly and dispassionately list the challenges of handling an “unequipped train” when new technologies, equipment, and systems are being deployed across the property. This perspective of railroad intra-operability is an inherent aspect of maintaining the physical plant and functionality of a railroad as technologies evolve. For example, the migration to narrow-band VHF will involve the eventual replacement of nearly ¼ million radios nationwide without interfering with operations. Now, with the enactment of the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, an additional level of operability that has been long discussed and studied, but effectively unresolved, has come to the forefront of the technicians’ tasks. I refer to railroad inter-operability as the ability of trains with foreign power to cross onto and perform PTC effectively.

With the pursuit of railroad inter-operability consuming unprecedented levels of resources and cooperation across the industry to meet the end-of-2015 deadline, a different perspective of operability is not even being considered, yet alone pursued. This is the concept of industry intra-operability that provides the ability to track resources without regard to the property over which they are operating. Unlike railroad inter-operability, industry intra-operability offers substantial business benefits that are either being handled poorly today or are not even available to the railroads, both individually and collectively as an industry.

The business benefits fall into three categories, i.e., resource management, equipment maintenance, and security, as follows –

Increased resource management effectiveness is potentially available via industry intra-operability including moving from the current crisis-based management processes prevalent today to that of being proactive.  This means having timely data on train position and speed and approaching a railroad’s network in sync with the tools to project conflicts in a railroad’s lineup whether truly scheduled or not. Such projections will permit the various resource managers to minimize, if not avoid altogether, the effect of projected conflicts including track-time, yards, train crews, locomotives, and critical rolling stock.

Industry intra-operability offers unique advantages as well in the maintenance of locomotives including knowing the status of a foreign locomotive and the opportunity for performance-based maintenance in lieu of prescriptive mandates. An accurate and complete history of diagnostic data could also result in a different concept of competitive nationwide maintenance and warranty services contracted on a railroad if not an industry basis.

Given the increasing expectations and requirements for security of shipments for both commercial and safety purposes, industry intra-operability provides a reliable and commanding level of data for both a shipment’s status and its chain of custody, including TIH shipments. As noted in the Teddy Bear posting PTC Delivers Business Benefits, these business benefits as well as a range of other business benefits that are mistakenly associated with PTC, can be achieved relatively easily with a strategic railroading perspective leveraging the three core technologies discussed in the three prior postings – if the appropriate human resources are provided.

As noted earlier, the railroads are applying substantial technical resources to obtain railroad inter-operability. Fortunately, these technicians are not the same resources required to pursue the business benefits. Unfortunately, the appropriate human resources actually don’t exist in the railroads today, i.e., technologists that can deliver a unique blend of multiple disciplines including wireless & IT technologies, business case development, business process analysis, operations research, and a touch of Six Sigma. Fortunately, however, the ROI’s of the business benefits that can be delivered are quite substantial and can thereby justify obtaining and committing the appropriate resources. Unfortunately though, few railroads, if any, have identified the use of technologists to rethink operations based upon advancing technologies, most specifically wireless.  It seems that there are no senior technologist positions in the railroads that can develop and present a threshold business case to senior management to pursue developing a strategic technology plan in sync with a strategic business plan.

As to the supplier community, there are at best a few that have the wherewithal to put together synced business / technology strategies, albeit somewhat biased undoubtedly. But even those suppliers that may be capable of doing so are reluctant to take on the railroads in a top-down fashion instead of the politically correct but likely ineffective bottom-up approach. In either intrinsic railroad practices or supplier marketing practices, senior railroad management is not getting the message as to what can be done with advancing technologies.

The bottom line is that the railroads don’t need to wait for the business benefits that have been inappropriately associated with the deployment of PTC. The financial justification is there to deploy a team of technologists to structure the business and technology strategies, the implementation of which will handsomely offset the investment required for narrow-band 160-161 MHz and PTC’s 220 MHz. The cost to take full advantage of narrow-banding as well as the somewhat green-field deployment of the 220 MHz bands for PTC by 2016 will be extraordinary. However, the business value that the new-found wireless capacity can deliver is unprecedented, that is if the railroads collectively expand the dimensions of operability.

Teddy Bear – “Digital Authorities are Vital”

I thought I had covered all of the important Teddy Bears in my prior posts as to the issue of vitality in railroad operations, but I forgot about one.  Several weeks ago at a PTC conference where I was the luncheon speaker, I addressed a number of topics. Arguably, the most important two points I discussed were:

  1. PTC does not deliver business benefits; and
  2. The fervent pursuit of PTC by the railroads to meet the mandate requirement is actually preventing the pursuit of opportunities to advance railroad operations. The reason for the latter is explained by the fact that most railroads lack both the Strategic Railroading perspective and the necessary resources, Technologists, to develop and deploy such a perspective.

At the conclusion of the presentation, the audience was asked if they had questions or comments. The first question was as to whether or not I thought Digital Authorities are vital. Indeed, there are many that believe them to be … with the sequential logic being that the wireless communication system required would have to be vital as well. In fact, the digital authorities are no more vital than the aspects on the signal post or the authorities that are provided via voice radio in non-signaled territory. All of these are only the display of the results of the vital process that was in effect to generate the authority.

With that said, it doesn’t mean that the transmission of authorities need not be accurate and reliable. For voice authorities, those attributes are provided by the crew member repeating the authority back to the dispatcher, and then starting over if there is any disagreement.  For DA’s, the accuracy and reliability factors are provided by a mathematical algorithm that performs error detection and correction on bits. And for signals, the issue is whether or not the light source is operable.  In all cases, should the transmission fail, then the crew knows what to do.  They revert to the threshold level of vitality referred to as the Book of Operating Rules.

The bottom line is that DA’s are not vital.
Therefore neither the transmission process nor the equipment need to be either.

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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.

Full Spectrum subscriptions are available by contacting Ron via email. If you are concerned with staying abreast of the newest advances in rail technology or operations strategy, it is highly recommended you subscribe in order to maintain your competitive advantage.

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