The 92nd annual Transportation Research Board (TRB) meetings were held in Washington, DC last week, where over 10,000 people gathered to discuss anything related to transportation. Although the program is filled with sessions such as “Asphalt Material Properties and Pavement Performance” and “Tire-Pavement Friction,” TRB has increasingly seen growth in the interest and involvement of freight and passenger rail practitioners, researchers, and policy makers. It is one of the few forums that promote discussions among these different groups.
TRB is organized around committees, and as interest in rail has grown at TRB over the past several years, so have the number of rail committees. There is a Rail Group, which is composed of eight rail committees:
- Intercity Passenger Rail
- Passenger Rail Equipment and System Integration
- Railroad Operating Technologies
- Freight Rail Transportation
- Railroad Track Structure System Design
- Rail Transit Infrastructure
- Railway Maintenance
- Railroad Operational Safety
I attended the Railroad Operating Technologies Committee, where one of primary topics, not surprisingly, was positive train control (PTC). An interesting report prepared for BNSF, CSXT, NS and UP by ARINC Engineering Service was distributed. This report, entitled “Evaluative Modeling of the Interoperable Positive Train Control System Design,” contained results of computer-based simulations of the various components of the PTC design architecture, including a new 220 MHz radio used for operational communications and interoperability.
When looked at from the reliability of each individual component, the report concluded that PTC falls far short of the “five-nines” (99.999%) reliability goal. The report predicted that PTC would cause nearly 300 hours of nationwide train delay each day on single track segments, and nearly 400 hours of delay each day on double track segments. The general consensus in the Committee meeting was that the railroads could not tolerate this amount of delay, and the cost of PTC would increase substantially due to component redundancy that would be required to maintain current service reliability levels.
The Freight Rail Transportation Committee had a standing room only crowd participate in discussions on the latest issues. One noteworthy topic was “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century,” known as MAP-21, which is a highway provisions bill for surface transportation funding signed by President Obama last year. Why was this of interest to the Freight Rail committee? Because Section 32801 calls for a comprehensive, state level, truck size and weight study. The issue is whether heavier, longer-combination trucks should be allowed over an interconnected national set of highways. Stay tuned, because this may likely become the next big threat to the rail industry.
If you haven’t attended TRB, or have missed the event in recent years, I’d encourage you to go in January 2014.