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Montana Rail Link plans to adopt ‘Positive Train Control’ to increase safety

Posted at 2:16 PM, Jun 29, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-29 16:17:00-04

BOZEMAN, Mont. – We are all familiar with trains in Montana.

Montana Rail Link (MRL) is the eighth largest railroad in the United States.

A new system designed specifically to remotely stop trains in their tracks will make all of those miles of tracks even safer.

That system is called “Positive Train Control” or PTC.

MRL can install this new technology with the help of a $3.5 million federal railroad safety grant.

Appropriate to its name, PTC gives the company the controls from a distance to prevent the worst.

“PTC adds yet another layer of safety,” says Ross Lane, communications director of Montana Rail Link.

When you are the communications director for Montana Rail Link, you can imagine it could be hard to track him down.

Over the phone, Ross Lane said Positive Train Control, though, can help trains track a problem well before they get to it.

“Positive Train Control is an added safety layer to stop certain train accidents from occurring,” Lane says. “For example, train to train collisions, derailments caused by train speed.”

Utmost safety is not as simple as it sounds.

“GPS, land-based radio towers, computer controls both at the dispatch center, as well as a system of computers on the train,” Lane says.

For Central Valley Fire Marshal Bruce Hennequin in Belgrade, well, he’s pretty used to the idea of trains and the danger they could pose.

His crew responded when a man wearing dark clothes was nearly hit by a train a few weeks ago, forcing it to come to a stop.

“We see people wearing earbuds or headphones, listening to music, walking on the tracks,” Hennequin says.

“In this case, that may not have done anything but what PTC does allow for in the future is a very complex system of analytics,” Lane says.

Lane says this is a voluntary precaution as all of the trains that belong to MRL are all on Class Two tracks.

They don’t carry any passengers.

Still, with these extra set of eyes, that could add a lot of protection for the future as well as make it easier for them to see further down the tracks.

“At this time, there is no federal requirement for Class Two railroads,” Lane says.

Lane adds that PTC uses technology like LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) and will be helped along with the installation of new signals to make up for the spots along the routes with bad cell coverage.

“Every rule and regulation that’s written, you know, someone has paid for with blood or with their lives and so we take this very seriously,” Lane says.

And with 83 percent of all freight rails in the country using this, Lane says being the first to volunteer shows a priority.

“We believe it’s the right thing to do for our employees but also for the communities in which we operate,” Lane says.

According to the Positive Train Control Enforcement and Implementation Act — all US rails will be required to use PTC by December 2020.