Most VRE riders are aware that all railroads, including VRE, are required by federal law to install and implement Positive Train Control (PTC) by the end of 2020. VRE and its freight partners, CSX (Fredericksburg Line) and Norfolk Southern (Manassas Line), are currently in the midst of rolling out PTC across our rail lines to meet the federal deadline.

PTC is a safety overlay technology system that monitors a train’s movements in real-time and will stop a train to prevent train-to-train collisions, over-speed derailments, and unauthorized train movements through work zones or any other restricted section of track. Trains across the VRE system are now operating with PTC, and as a result, PTC may be cited in our service alerts once the delay reason is confirmed.

In general, there are three types of issues that could cause a PTC delay. They are: software, hardware, and wayside communications.

Software issues can be as simple as a message conflict during the initialization process before a train run. The software that runs PTC is extremely complex and must be adapted to every unique aspect of our railroad. VRE lines where PTC is operating are either in operating demonstration or testing modes, and fine-tuning the software is part of this process.

Hardware issues occur if one of the numerous components of the PTC onboard computer system fails.

The wayside communications system monitors railroad track signals, switches, and track circuits and communicates the alignments or indications of track equipment to the onboard system to allow a train to move through a section of track. A failure in this communication link will stop a train because the PTC system is not receiving this data.

A PTC issue sometimes requires that the engineer reset the onboard equipment, and that can require about 4-5 minutes to complete.

As all the railroads in the country are implementing PTC and the technology further matures, we expect most associated delays to decline.