The inevitable impossible - PTC is down!!!

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The inevitable impossible - PTC is down!!!

Postby Tadman » Wed Aug 02, 2017 8:17 am

Most of you know I'm no fan of PTC, given that it cannot save enough lives in 30 years to top one year of grade crossing accidents, and it is not positive, the "P" in PTC. Put simply, "PTC is utterly stupid".

A few years back, a train accelerating out of Niles got a false indication because a maintainer was in the bungalow and didn't follow proper procedure. The train highballed into a siding, barely missing a string of ballast hoppers.

Today, rumor has it that the ITCS installation in MIchigan is down as the locomotive-mounted technology is throwing errors codes or something.

For those that don't find their head spinning, look at it this way: "positive" as a technical term implies [basically, in my laypersons terms] that if anything fails or goes wrong, a high degree of restrictive signal or operation will result to prevent accidents in the absence of continuing PTC information to the engine. Try to find that in either of the above scenarios. It's not bloody positive!

In the first case, we just forgot. The whole idea of "positive" train control is that it avoids this kind of human error. In the second case, we just shut 'er down until it gets fixed. Kind of like congress on a recess (the brain trusts that mandated PTC).

Image

Look, my explanations are highly untechnical. I'm just a lawyer, not an engineer. But my ilk - the same people that tried to blame MNCR Valhalla on the third rail and not the lady behind the wheel - will make it really ugly with our eloquent quasi-understanding of PTC when something goes really wrong.
Last edited by John_Perkowski on Wed Aug 09, 2017 9:10 am, edited 2 times in total.
Reason: Taken off global, John Perkowski
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Re: The inevitable impossible - PTC is down!!!

Postby Gilbert B Norman » Wed Aug 02, 2017 8:52 am

Tadman wrote:In the first case, we just forgot. The whole idea of "positive" train control is that it avoids this kind of human error. In the second case, we just shut 'er down until it gets fixed. Kind of like congress on a recess (the brain trusts that mandated PTC).

Two points come to mind when reviewing Mr. Dunville's material - especially from the captioned quote.

First, for those not following industry affairs nine years ago, the PTC mandate was pursuant to Rail Safety Act 08 and prompted by Chatsworth. While the Act brought about needed "fortifying" of the Hours of Service law, especially, that "prescribed rest" of four, eight, or ten hours means "that's rest" and not "limbo time".

But for better or worse, and with Chatsworth representing a flagrant Rules violation that would have been avoided with PTC, the provisions regarding such were enacted by the lame duck Bush43 administration.

I realize that the Michigan Amtrak service is going to take a timekeeping hit (limited to 79) until the technical/maintenance issues are addressed, but since '08 it seems as if there have been more incidents with fatalities, in which active PTC could have avoided.

Immediately after enactment, I would have been solidly with Mr. Dunville's position, but now I am of thought "let's make it work".
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Re: The inevitable impossible - PTC is down!!!

Postby mtuandrew » Wed Aug 02, 2017 10:08 am

Perhaps time to consider tying the legacy Michigan Line ITCS into E-ITMS (the GPS-based freight standard.) Time to prove that the latter technology can support speeds above 79 mph as well.
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Re: The inevitable impossible - PTC is down!!!

Postby justalurker66 » Wed Aug 02, 2017 12:42 pm

Tadman wrote:Most of you know I'm no fan of PTC, given that it cannot save enough lives in 30 years to top one year of grade crossing accidents, and it is not positive, the "P" in PTC. Put simply, "PTC is utterly stupid".

Positive, not Absolute. The railroad companies agree with you ... it was cheaper to pay the damages (equipment as well as compensation for lives lost) than pay to install PTC. "Preventable" accidents are the worst - I do not know if awards have increased yet for accidents where PTC has not yet been installed. But I expect they will when the courts see "failure to install PTC" as a negligent act. Putting a cost on a human life then going to court and claiming that it was "not worth the money" to save someone's life doesn't go over too well.


Tadman wrote:A few years back, a train accelerating out of Niles got a false indication because a maintainer was in the bungalow and didn't follow proper procedure. The train highballed into a siding, barely missing a string of ballast hoppers.

Most systems work better when not disabled or bypassed.

Think of seatbelts. If you don't wear them and disable any interlocks that would nag the driver until seatbelts are worn (or disable the vehicle if seatbelts were not used) can you really blame the seatbelts? In this case the maintainer bypassed the interlocks that would have prevented the incident. Perhaps it is a design flaw allowing interlocks to be disabled. Or not putting an OOS block on the line while the maintainer was working.

There will always be procedures to follow. It is not a fault of PTC when people fail to use it or disable PTC's function.


Tadman wrote:But my ilk - the same people that tried to blame MNCR Valhalla on the third rail and not the lady behind the wheel - will make it really ugly with our eloquent quasi-understanding of PTC when something goes really wrong.

The incident can (and was) blamed on the SUV driver. But the additional deaths were caused by a design flaw on the railroad. Life would be easier if people did not do unexpected things (like enter the tracks in front of a train). But with the number of grade crossing incidents across the country is striking a vehicle "unexpected" or just (relatively) rare?

"So sad too bad" only goes so far when deaths and injuries are preventable.
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Re: The inevitable impossible - PTC is down!!!

Postby Tadman » Wed Aug 02, 2017 12:53 pm

justalurker66 wrote:[
Most systems work better when not disabled or bypassed...

There will always be procedures to follow. It is not a fault of PTC when people fail to use it or disable PTC's function.


.


Lurker, you make a really good point here. If we can't blame the system for the human error around it, why isn't ABS good enough? Theoretically, if signal indications and maintenance procedure are followed perfectly, ABS will never fail either.
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Re: The inevitable impossible - PTC is down!!!

Postby rr503 » Wed Aug 02, 2017 1:27 pm

That's not the point he's making. ABS has no ability to stop trains -- to mitigate that human error. PTC does. It takes into account that we aren't perfect, and provides a backstop for when we mess up.

And anyway, I have a feeling that it'll become much more useful down the road. With PTC, you can get rolling blocks, and automated trains...
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Re: The inevitable impossible - PTC is down!!!

Postby mtuandrew » Wed Aug 02, 2017 3:43 pm

Makes me wish more railroads had installed, and many more had kept, Automatic Train Stop as a way to lightly boost speed and traffic density for both freight and passenger. It's tough to beat the simplicity of knocking open a brake valve.
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Re: The inevitable impossible - PTC is down!!!

Postby justalurker66 » Wed Aug 02, 2017 5:24 pm

Tadman wrote:Lurker, you make a really good point here. If we can't blame the system for the human error around it, why isn't ABS good enough? Theoretically, if signal indications and maintenance procedure are followed perfectly, ABS will never fail either.

Well we can go back to the horse and buggy era of railroad and use timetable and train order. The human error of leaving a siding or passing a station was part of the reason ABS was developed. There are still a lot of track that runs dark and uses paperwork to protect movements.

Each improvement in signalling provided additional benefits for the railroad (beyond not wrecking their trains). Radio dispatch and signalling reduced the amount of tight planning needed. A train could run late or an extra section and the signals would help show the occupancy of the track ahead. Simple controlled signals at interlockings and automatic interlockings paved the way for centralized traffic control systems. (With the "control" being more of a "remote command" system, not an absolute control of the trains.)

Each time "human error" is seen we ask for a system that prevents those errors. The best argument against PTC would be for humans to pay attention and not wreck their trains.
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Re: The inevitable impossible - PTC is down!!!

Postby george matthews » Thu Aug 03, 2017 5:41 pm

Why is this in the Worldwide forum? European railways are rather more organised.
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Re: The inevitable impossible - PTC is down!!!

Postby mtuandrew » Thu Aug 03, 2017 7:35 pm

george matthews wrote:Why is this in the Worldwide forum? European railways are rather more organised.

It's a global sticky topic for now. Up to Jeff or John where it goes after that.
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Re: The inevitable impossible - PTC is down!!!

Postby John_Perkowski » Thu Aug 03, 2017 8:28 pm

Eventually it'll go back to Amtrak. But yes, it's global right now.
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Re: The inevitable impossible - PTC is down!!!

Postby Backshophoss » Thu Aug 03, 2017 11:37 pm

With ATS and ATC(with Cab signals) the "Fail Safe" is STOP,then the engineer asks for instructions on how to proceed.
In most cases,the train can move onward at a slower speed per the RR's Book of Rules/dispatcher's instructions.
IF a signal maintainer's bypass created a unsafe "condition" in the ITCS setup,there should have been a signal blocked at stop,
while the maintainer was doing the required testing with the "bypass" jumpers were in use.
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Re: The inevitable impossible - PTC is down!!!

Postby east point » Fri Aug 04, 2017 12:22 pm

Putting PTC tied in to GPS is a receipt for disaster. When not If GPS goes down there will not be enough dispatchers with experience to run any RR. PTC has been cited as being able to prevented the Frankford over speed accident. Actually had the lead signal to the curve had been properly signaled approach 60 there would not have been an over speed as ATC would have slowed the train. PTC ( ACSES ) would not have prevented that if tied to signal system.

From what has been posted at several sites ATC installed with proper leads to conflict areas would prevent everything that PTC claims to do. It has worked where installed. ATC could have been installed every where at much less cost than this bug prone PTC systems. The mess at Denver with PTC trying to control crossing gates so far has been a failure and already prime contractor has pulled out. What happens in 10 or so years when the computer tech has gone thru 3 or 4 iterations and there is not enough persons able to trouble shoot problems of outdated systems. Worse still no one to add the new restrictions or add new track ?
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Re: The inevitable impossible - PTC is down!!!

Postby John_Perkowski » Wed Aug 09, 2017 9:09 am

Admin Note:

This has been quiet for five days. I'm unpinning it as a global, and will place it in Amtrak.
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Re: The inevitable impossible - PTC is down!!!

Postby Alcochaser » Wed Aug 09, 2017 2:35 pm

Lets set some things straight.

ITCS is the oddball in the PTC world. It's had a long troublesome history.
The effort started in 1996. Initially it was just seen at a lower cost way to allow 110mph without Cab Signals.
Making it work right has been a long an troublesome process. But by no means should you allow the constant ITCS issues to taint the ACSES installs on the NEC.
The issue with ITCS has been the wireless radio coverage. They tried 900mhz first, and that was a disaster. 220mhz has been better, but only just.

ACSES is MUCH less based on Wireless, put simply it is a much more robust technology. It uses fixed transponders perform at lot of the functions. It also fully integrates with the well proven PRR style cab signals. I don't know of any issues with ACSES failures. This is because only non vital functions are wireless. All the vital operations are done via the transponders. Amtrak has been running it flawlessly since 2002.

I-ETMS the freight system is much like ITCS but its much newer. The freight railroads have been fighting coverage issues.

The big problem has been spectrum. The FCC controls all the radio spectrum. They have no mandate from anyone to do what it takes to help alleviate some of theses issues. The FCC is currently limiting everyone to 5 watts output power on the 220mhz band used for PTC. That doesn't get you a lot.

The PTC issues are pretty much endemic of our government's issues. You have Congress and FRA ramming this down everyone's throats, but you have the FCC making it hard.
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