Q&A about PTC and its impact on train schedules

The proposed new schedule can be viewed here.

Q. Why are you changing the BNSF Line schedule?

A. It has to be done to accommodate the new Positive Train Control (PTC) safety system.

Q. What’s that?

A. PTC is a federally mandated safety system that will automatically stop a train if the engineer fails to obey a signal or exceeds the speed limit. The system integrates GPS, trackside sensors and communications units, onboard computers and Metra’s centralized train dispatching system. Together, these components track trains and monitor the crew’s compliance with speed restrictions and signals. PTC will automatically stop a train if the system detects that a violation is about to occur.

Q. Why would that make you change the schedule?

A. Because the PTC system will have to be initialized before every train departs its originating station. Trains that finish a run, then “flip” to start a new run in the other direction will now have the added step of initializing the PTC system before starting the new run. And there’s not enough time in the current schedule to do that.

Q. How much time do they need?

A. We’re estimating that it will now take 12 minutes for trains to turn around at the terminal stations and 15 minutes to turn around mid-route. And right now there are 30 trains that turn around in 10 minutes or less.

Q. Why must PTC be initialized for each run?

Q. The PTC system needs to know the size and make-up of the train (because its weight affects its stopping distance) and any other details about conditions along the route (such as work zones or speed restrictions) that could affect the safe operation of the train. Those factors are essential for the system to monitor the engineer’s compliance with signals and speed restrictions and to calculate when to stop the train in case the engineer does not comply.

Q. What does this mean for the schedule?

A. We had to add time to the schedule of nearly every train to account for the additional time needed to flip trains. The adjustments are mostly very minor.

Q. Why does this only affect the BNSF Line?

A. It doesn’t – but the BNSF Line is the first to get PTC so it is the first line to be affected. Similar changes will be needed on almost every other line.

Q. Is that the only reason you are changing the schedule?

A. PTC is the main reason. But since we are changing the schedule already, we thought we’d make a few other adjustments to address issues on the line.

Q. What are those?

A. There is severe overcrowding on trains from our busiest stations – Naperville and Route 59. We’ve added an extra express train and reconfigured some stop patterns to ease that overcrowding. We also made some other adjustments based on a year’s worth of data to make the schedule more closely match actual operating conditions. Some trains also will stop at different stations.

The proposed new schedule can be viewed here.