Category Archives for "Latest News"

Oct 24

Update on Positive Train Control

By Transport Action Ontario | Intercity Rail and Bus , Latest News

By Robert Wightman, Vice President, Transport Action Ontario

There has been a lot of talk on Positive Train Control, PTC, lately, especially with the New Jersey Transit, NJT, incident in Hoboken recently. Exactly what is PTC, why did it come in to being and what will it do?

From Wikipedia Positive train control (PTC) is a system of functional requirements for monitoring and controlling train movements as an attempt to provide increased safety. The American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association (AREMA) describes Positive Train Control as having these primary characteristics:[1]

  • Train separation or collision avoidance
  • Line speed enforcement
  • Temporary speed restrictions
  • Rail worker wayside safety

The USA is on a major initiative to install PTC by about 2020 on Class I lines carrying hazardous material or passengers.  This is a result of a collision between a Metrolink Commuter train and a Union Pacific freight train on September 12, 2008, in California, which resulted in the deaths of 25 and injuries to more than 135 passengers. The operator of the commuter train was allegedly texting on his cell phone at the time and ran a red signal. The US Congress passed a 315 page bill that President Bush signed into law on October 16, 2008.

PTC would have prevented the Metro North Derailment where the commuter train entered the curve at three times the stated speed on December 1, 2013 killing 4 and injuring more than 70. It would also have prevented the Amtrak derailment near Philadelphia in May of 2015 that killed 8 and injured over 200.

There are many incidents that PTC would NOT have prevented. In the US these include:

  1. The accident on February 3, 2015 where a Metro-North train slammed into an SUV on the tracks at a railroad crossing about 20 miles north of New York City, killing the SUV’s driver and five people aboard the train.
  2. The April 3, 2016 accident on Amtrak where two employees moved a back hoe onto the tracks near Chester PA without obtaining permission from the Rail Dispatcher. If they had done this, the track would have been locked out and the train switched to another track.
  3. The September 22, 1993 incident where a barge hit a railroad bridge near Mobile, Alabama. Minutes later, an Amtrak train hit the bent tracks and plunged into the bayou, killing 47 people.
  4. The accident of January 26, 2005 when a southbound Metrolink commuter train #100 collided with an SUV that had been abandoned on the tracks immediately south of Chevy Chase Drive The train jackknifed and struck trains on either side of it—one a stationary Union Pacific freight train, and the other a northbound Metrolink train (#901) traveling in the opposite direction. The chain-reaction collisions resulted in the deaths of 11 people.
  5. The collision in February, 2015 where six people died and 12 were injured when a Metro-North train smashed into an SUV that was stopped on the tracks in Westchester County.
  6. The most recent collision in the US, the New Jersey Transit, NJT commuter train crash in Hoboken NJ, would not have been prevented by PTC because the Federal Railway Administration, FRA, had granted a Main Line Track Exclusion Addendums (MTEAs) for the New Jersey Transit’s Hoboken passenger terminals where speeds are restricted to no more than 20 mph and interlocking rules are in effect as the terminal is too complex for the system, PTC, to operate.

In the Canadian context, PTC would have prevented the VIA train derailment at Burlington on February 26, 2012 when a Via train entered a 15 mph crossover at 56 mph killing the 3 crew in the locomotive and injuring 46 people. It would not have prevented the Lac Megantic disaster where an unattended train ran away backwards down a grade after being left without enough hand brakes applied nor would it have prevented the CP Derailment in the winter of 2015 near Nipigon ON that was caused by broken rail inside an insulated joint which was partially caused by extreme cold.

Positive Train Control may look like a major safety advance, and it is, but at price tag of over $2 billion Canadian it makes one wonder if it is the best bang for the buck. There are more people killed each year in level crossing collisions between trains and autos than in PTC preventable railway accidents. Would it not be more prudent to increase level crossing grade separations before PTC?  Major train accidents may be more spectacular but more people are killed in level crossing accidents each year that in train accidents.

1      American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association (AREMA), Lanham, MD (2009). “Meeting the Communication Challenges for Positive Train Control.” AREMA 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, IL.

Sep 23

London Free Press: Passenger rail aid good for economy and planet

By Transport Action Ontario | Intercity Rail and Bus , Latest News

Transport Action Ontario board member Ken Westcar recently published an opinion letter in the London Free Press.  While written as a private individual, the article concisely summarizes the views of Transport Action Ontario on passenger rail.  Our thanks to Ken for submitting the letter. 


Westcar: Passenger rail aid good for economy and planet

Ken Westcar, Special to Postmedia News

MP Kate Young, left, Via Rail president Yves Desjardins-Siciliano, and MP Peter Fragiskatos announced infrastructure improvements at VIA Rail stations in London and Sarnia on Sept. 12. (MORRIS LAMONT, The London Free Press)

MP Kate Young, left, Via Rail president Yves Desjardins-Siciliano, and MP Peter Fragiskatos announced infrastructure improvements at VIA Rail stations in London and Sarnia on Sept. 12. (MORRIS LAMONT, The London Free Press)


September 12’s announcement that London and Sarnia Via stations will receive $2.55 million in upgrades is a small but significant step toward treating Canada’s intercity passenger trains as something more than a hobby.

It’s not entirely the fault of Via Rail, but a basic failure of successive governments to understand the importance of railway infrastructure and transportation in a large country like ours. Rapidly evolving social, economic and environmental factors dictate a need for change.

Privatization has allowed our major rail freight carriers to discard routes and rails that make no contribution to their bottom line. And it works, given the current price of CP and CN stocks. The need to “sweat the asset” — that is, to make the best possible use of their privately owned, capacity-constrained infrastructure by running longer trains — is why Via has often been pushed aside. Federal and provincial governments have generally taken a hands-off approach in the belief market forces should govern the people and freight transportation business.

Many of Via’s problems are therefore systemic. They’re not going to be an easy fix especially when the situation could yet deteriorate further.

The concept of building new passenger train-only routes is an option, but the cost and time required to get such services up and running is staggering. Planning, environmental assessments, land acquisition, litigation and construction could take 15 to 20 years. The idea that such projects could attract private-sector development capital is, therefore, doubtful.

The Sept. 3 edition of the Economist noted, “The (U.K.) government calculated that cost-benefit ratio for expanding rail capacity on existing lines was almost 50 per cent higher than for building HS2 (a new high-speed rail line between London-and Birmingham). For some improvements the benefits were eight times greater than the costs.”

This comparison might not be directly transferable to Canada, but it should give planners and politicians pause for thought. It also supports federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau’s logic that we need to progressively match increased capacity to demand growth to control costs while offering affordable fares, optimized schedules, punctuality and modern trains in place of Via’s rolling museum pieces. But are these just good words or intended actions?

The relationship between freight railways and senior government in Canada has never been warm and fuzzy. Regulatory burdens are an issue as well as frequent bureaucratic ineptitude. But many advocates of rail transportation believe government and industry must develop a win-win relationship that could boost freight capacity, safety and speed while accommodating needed upgrades to Via’s services. And the way to do this is to make existing rail infrastructure do more for everyone, including the environment.

The argument this is not possible is largely facile. Governments think nothing of pushing new highways across valuable farmland, through solid rock, across lakes and rivers, irrespective of technical challenges. The same thinking needs to be applied at federal and provincial levels when it comes to existing rail expansion.

It can be done incrementally with the removal of bottlenecks as a priority. Adding capacity, such as multiple tracking and improved crossovers, can follow. Progress can then match anticipated demand. Construction and regulatory lags will be much less than with a completely new route.

Applying new digital technology in the form of positive rain control or even more advanced systems would lift the rail industry out of its 1980s lethargy. Making Canadian trains faster, safer and more productive with fail-safe systems should be the goal.

Why? Because without a balanced passenger and freight transportation system our national economy and quality of life will remain impaired while our international climate-change commitments remain an embarrassing failure.

The idea Canadian government and industry can pursue a largely win-lose model belies the fact that most other G7 countries are already embarked on co-operative efforts to move people and freight more effectively by rail.

Attractive stations are always nice, as are grand plans. But, if you have to wait for hours for the next train and never be sure that you’ll reach your destination on time and at reasonable cost, they will be absent any meaningful public utility and remain just an expensive hobby.

Ken Westcar is a Woodstock resident.

Aug 31

Comments on Ontario Proposal for Intercity Bus Modernization

By Transport Action Ontario | Intercity Rail and Bus , Latest News

Ontario has been conducting public consultations on modernizing and appropriately regulating  the intercity bus regime to ensure it remains an attractive and affordable travel option for Ontarians.

Transport Action Ontario made a combined submission on behalf of ourselves, the Southwestern Ontario Transportation Alliance (SWOTA) and the Northern and Eastern Ontario Rail Network (NEORN).

The submission can be viewed here:  tao-busmodernization-2016-08-31

Aug 18

Strong Media Response to “Are We There Yet? The state of transit investment in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area”

By Transport Action Ontario | Latest News , Urban Transit

The Move the GTHA report “Are We There Yet?  The state of transit investment in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area”, released on August 16, 2016, was broadly covered by the Toronto and regional media, including at least 12 different print, radio and television reports.  One of the most detailed was in The Toronto Star, which can be viewed here:

The report was also reviewed in Queens Park Briefing.   That important article, which speaks to the reaffirmation of the provincial commitment to transit,  can be viewed at the link below:
Report from Move the GTHA reveals more than half of Ontarios planned transportation projects remain unfunded
Aug 16

“Are We There Yet? The state of transit investment in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area”

By Transport Action Ontario | Latest News , Major Reports , Urban Transit

The Move the GTHA collaborative, of which Transport Action Ontario is a key core member, has released its long-awaited report “Are We There Yet?  The state of transit investment in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA)”.   The report  details the progress to date in funding and building The Big Move 25 year rapid transit plan, and quantifies the large capital and operating/maintenance/lifecycle rehabilitation  costs that still need to be funded.   There are over 20 signatories to the report.
We are calling for a Transit Summit by early 2017 among all stakeholders to discuss funding.  The timing is good because (1) Metrolinx has just released their discussion paper on The Big Move  (2) the federal government is planning for Phase 2 of their infrastructure investment plan,    (3) some municipalities, including Toronto and York, want to have an “adult discussion” on new revenue tools.
 The report received broad media coverage, and a positive response from Queens Park.  These will be covered in subsequent posts.
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