Amtrak’s president recently floated the possibility that Amtrak will stop operating trains over rail lines that do not have positive train control (PTC) installed. The Northeast Corridor is OK; Amtrak owns it, but the long-distance trains operate over separate “host” railroads which have generally not completed the mandated PTC installation. This is not an idle speculation. Amtrak’s safety record is being challenged, and in all likelihood, PTC could have avoided the deaths Amtrak suffered in the recent Tacoma derailment and Carolina sidetrack crash.
But the Amtrak announcement raises more questions than it answers. So far, we haven’t seen a breakdown of which long-haul lines Amtrak uses have PTC and which don’t. Presumably, somebody will figure that out and post the results soon, but even a short stretch of no-PTC track could presumably cancel an entire route.
Another possibility is that PTC-only rules could severely impact commuter runs in the northeast. Amtrak owns the tracks in the area, and it may well decide not to allow any state and local commuter trains without PTC run on its tracks. That could possibly limit use of Amtrak rails by Boston’s T line from South Station to Providence, New York’s Metro North Connecticut line, New Jersey Transit’s Corridor and North Jersey Coast lines, and the Maryland MARC Penn line.
Sources have speculated that some host railroads would game the system by dragging their feet on PTC even more as a way finally to get rid of Amtrak’s pesky trains. And the PTC limit would also bolster the efforts of those others who would like to end Amtrak’s money-losing long-haul trains. Stay tuned for further developments.