First Commuter Railroad in the US to Deploy PTC System with GPS

Formed in 1991, Metrolink is governed by the Southern California Regional Rail Authority (SCRRA) and comprises five county agencies that are tasked with reducing highway congestion and improving mobility throughout Southern California. Metrolink began service in October 1992 to fill a void in Southern California’s transportation infrastructure. The organization has served as the link between six Southern California counties by providing commuters seamless transportation connectivity options. Metrolink has grown from its original three service lines, 11 stations and 2,300 daily passengers to seven service lines, 55 stations with 44,000 weekday passengers, across its 512 mile network.

The Challenge

On Sept. 12, 2008, a Connex engineer operating a Metrolink train failed to stop at a red signal, causing a collision with a Union Pacific freight train. In this incident, 25 lives were lost and another 135 people were injured. California Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein led Congress in adopting the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, which mandated the installation of Positive Train Control (PTC) by the end of 2015. The Metrolink Board of Directors committed to implementing PTC in advance of the federal deadline to ensure Southern Californians are among the first in the nation to benefit from this life-saving technology. PTC will prevent train to train collisions, over-speed derailments and prevent the movement of trains through switches left in the wrong position. PTC monitors and, if necessary, controls train movement in the event of human error. PTC may also bring trains to a safe stop in the event of a natural disaster.

In order to meet the mandate laid out in the 2008 Rail Safety Improvement Act, Metrolink began the search for the best solution. The selected solution must also allow BNSF, UP and Amtrak to safely operate on Metrolink’s network, which means that the PTC system must be interoperable with each rail agency’s operating systems to ensure continued smooth, uninterrupted train operations among each agency.

The Solution

As a result of its innovative efforts, Metrolink is on schedule to become the first commuter railroad in the US to fully deploy a PTC system that integrates GPS technology with train management computers and digital radio communications with the help of CalAmp’s 220 MHz Interoperable Train Control (ITC) transceivers. CalAmp’s 220 MHz ITC Transceivers provide Metrolink with the critical data link needed between locomotives, base stations, wayside signals and switches and other railroad systems in an automated command and control network. CalAmp’s solution allows Metrolink to meet the federal mandate requiring PTC, as well as work towards its own safety goals. The wayside train signal system uses the CalAmp ITC 220 MHZ Transceivers to provide signal and switch status indications to the Metrolink dispatch system, as well as directly to approaching trains. The radios communicate with the train’s onboard computer, allowing it to display the train’s safe braking distance based on the train’s length, width, weight, along with the grade and curvature of the track. An audible warning notifies operating personnel of possible unsafe situations. If the engineer does not respond to the audible warning, the onboard computer will activate the brakes and safely stop the train. “Metrolink is committed to an early implementation of PTC. One of the project risks was the development and creation of an industry standard interoperable radio. CalAmp was the manufacturer who stepped up and provided the quantity and quality of radios our project required and furnished them within our timeline.” Dan Guerrero, Asst. Director PTC, C&S SCRRA.