Norfolk Southern on Positive Train Control

This is what happens when Congress decides it knows more than the industry who do the work. Amtrak trains on the NorthEast Corridor have nothing in common with Lumber trains from the Pacific Northwest traveling 3000 miles through the middle of nowhere.

NS is trying to put a happy face on the mandate, but the resentment is palpable.

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8 Responses to Norfolk Southern on Positive Train Control

  1. briand75 says:

    Looks like an attempt to replace the Engineer with technology. I don’t think that is a good idea – I don’t think Uber is quite ready for auto-drive trains.

    • Fred Stiening says:

      On class 1 mainline trains, that is the goal, and probably the only reason the railroads didn’t push back harder. The conversation has already started about one man crews. On through trains just going terminal to terminal, the only real purpose of the second person is to make sure the other person doesn’t disable the alerting device and fall asleep.

      CSX in particular has made driving a train pretty much just going along for the ride. The computers can take into consideration the places and times where trains will “meet” on sidings to go around each other, consider the terrain and composition of the train and adjust the throttle to maximize fuel efficiency and minimize the dwell time on sidings.

      The former Southern RR mainline is having a lot of its grade crossings eliminated by closing them or building bridges over the tracks. Nominally it is to speed up Amtrak trains, but long term it will enable trains that run themselves. A computer can blow the horn just as well as a human. Maybe if drivers know there is no human in the locomotive, they won’t go around the gates. If there is an unobstructed view camera on the front of the locomotive with better vision than a human, I could see a person in a control center running more than one train at a time safer than what we do today.

      The use of containerized freight means the railroads laregly get out of the last mile delivery and building (and maintaining) sidings into industrial parks unless the customer is a high volume customer or the cargo is hazardous.

  2. Parrott says:

    Possibly later, Briand. At least they know, more likely, where the train is going to go, unlike autonomous cars and trucks. What hurts is when you read in the newspaper where a NS train rear ended a stopped train on a single track and FRA findings.
    The dispatcher instructs the engineer or ‘train operator’ as they are called today, & conductor via radio ( Two man crews is all they operate with now on through trains) they must acknowledge and read the instructions back to the dispatcher.
    “Proceed to signal 322, Reed creek, hold.”
    Route is uphill at this point, train operator engages locomotive notch 3 or four, the throttle( I can’t remember for sure which) leaves double track and proceeds south.
    They run through the signal and continue up hill gaining speed from 34 mph to 41 mph and hit the rear of the stopped train.
    The dipsticks knew there was a train in front of them when they had received their instructions from the last town they had left, where there was a yard pick up.
    The FRA investigation said that they had found in the lead locomotive, newspapers, magazines, cell phones that were active. All big No-no’s. Supposedly one, was on the phone arguing with his wife, the conductor was texting, he didn’t call out the signal. They never applied brakes. Destroyed the lead locomotive, the crew had bumps bruises and one twisted a ankle pretty bad while jumping off . NS just salvaged the engine and parts, the other two locomotives derailed and were tore up pretty bad, but they plan to rebuild them.

    Its that kind or ‘carp’ that makes the case for gov and PTC. NS has leased off a lot of lines to shortline operators so they don’t have to upgrade the lines to PTC.
    That line from Asheville to Salisbury is one that(NS) doesn’t plan to upgrade, so it has a speed restriction of 25mph, and it is automatic block signal and CTC, but not PTC. So it will be limited to 25mph. They can’t get between the two terminals with 25mph in 12 hours. NS has to call two crews, makes train operation expensive. NS then either decides to the lease the line or shut it down.
    Another example, Columbus Ohio to Charleston ‘the west virginia secondary’, they leased to railtex. Good chemical traffic and some coal on that line. If coal had been still busy, they may have kept that one.

    What can you do if the train crew doesn’t take their job seriously.
    In the video, that is the correct way to throw a turn out ( switch). Two hands.
    yeah they are ‘spending the jack’ to upgrade locomotives and track, a lot of money. I think they asked for a extension from the gov, cause they couldn’t get it done by 2017.
    And they had the EPA after them for diesel emissions.

    • Fred Stiening says:

      There was an example out west where a railroad deliberately removed a rail so they could reclassify a mainline to being a dead end spur, not subject to PTC, knowing that some day if the PTC mandate changed, they could just put the rail back in place.

    • briand75 says:

      I think what fries me is the thought that you can replace human operators. There is a very cool test you can take that deals with life threatening situations in auto-drive vehicles where you basically get to choose who and how many die in certain situations. If I can find that link, I will post it. It is used to point out that someone has to program the reactions for various situations. I come from a programmed environment (nuclear generation) where the absolute best the automation can do is warn the operator and take some initial actions based on the event. The operator must still use judgment and follow procedures to render the situation “safe”. You can never replace the operator and guarantee any level of safety. This applies to trains and cars and vehicles of all sorts. The universe is a random series of random events.

      Granted – some operators are not ready for prime time, but that seems to be encouraged by the auto-nonsense and the belief that it will prevail in all scenarios. The event you point it is a good case for dropping this automation of operators nonsense.

    • Fred Stiening says:

      One of the NS videos is touting a new system where they can plug a locomotive into a power outlet in cold weather so they don’t have to idle the engine to keep it warm.

      That requires the locomotive to be tethered in one specific place. I wonder why they aren’t doing what truckers do now – add an APU that generates power from a small onboard generator – instead of using and wearing out the main motor

      • Parrott says:

        Hey Fred, they do have some locomotives with the APU. Its a Kohler powered engine, ( I think) like 26 HP, the newer ones run on diesel fuel too. I have heard them running before on some rebuilt SD40-2’s parked locally in winter.
        You are right, most still have the main diesel engine idling, but they do have some that have the APU’s added as they rebuilt through Junieta shops in Altoona PA.

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