Transit Projects

Commuter Rail Positive Train Control (PTC) Program

Latest Program Updates

3-week Look Ahead for PTC Installation Work

All activities along the noted commuter rail lines below are within the MBTA right-of-way. Schedule is a projection for planned PTC activities in the weeks ahead and is subject to change.

Service information for Newburyport/Rockport and Lowell lines during installation work.

Day Operations (approximately 6:30 am – 3:00 pm)
Advisory: Daytime Rock Drilling Work Along Rockport Line
Newburyport/Rockport  Line: July 17-August 7
Lowell Line: July 26-August 7
Haverhill Line: August 7

Night Operations (approximately 11:30 pm – 7:00 am)
Advisory: Commuter Rail Track Overnight Work
Newburyport/Rockport Line: July 17-August 7
Lowell Line: July 23-August 7
Haverhill Line: August 7

Program Description 

The Positive Train Control (PTC) Program is a strategic initiative of the MBTA aimed at meeting the Federal Mandate to have an operable PTC system in place throughout the MBTA’s entire commuter rail system by no later than December 31, 2020. PTC technology can improve safety and reduce human error by its ability to automatically control train speeds and even stop the train in certain situations should the operator fail to do so to avert possible collision or derailment. 

Program History

PTC is a federal safety requirement

In 2008 Congress enacted the Rail Safety Improvement Act which mandated that certain freight and commuter rail lines – including the MBTA’s Commuter Rail system and freight lines – install PTC by December 31, 2015. In October 2015, the deadline was extended by Congress to December 31, 2018, with the ability to receive additional extensions through December 31, 2020 by meeting key milestones. Fines exceeding $100,000 a day can be incurred if not completed by the federal deadlines.

PTC Contractor

Through a competitive procurement and review of all technical and cost proposals, the MBTA selected Ansaldo STS USA, Inc. (ASTS) as the best value with the highest rated technical proposal and lowest cost. In December 2015, ASTS was awarded a contract to deliver a complete PTC system on the entire Commuter Rail network. The contact includes design, integration, installation, testing, commissioning, training, and warranty. A Notice to Proceed (NTP) was provided to ASTS in January 2016.

PTC System Elements

The MBTA’s PTC System is designed to prevent:

  • Train to train collisions
  • Over speed derailments
  • Train incursion into established work safety zones of crews working along the tracks
  • Unexpected movement of trains through “open” switches

Program elements include:

  • On-board controls which monitor and regulate the speed and safety of the train should the operator fail to do so.
  • Signals and devices in the rail corridor transmitting safety data
  • System-wide communications – poles and antenna throughout the rail network
  • Upgraded centralized dispatch

The design, installation, testing and placing into service of the MBTA’s PTC system will impact every element of the Commuter Rail system including:

  • Wayside – Additions to the existing signal system that include transponders within the tracks (transmitting data to the train as it passes over), antennas, upgraded hardware and software in the existing signal houses/cases or the installation of new houses/cases as required.
  • Back Office – Upgraded hardware and software within the MBTA’s Dispatch and Control Centers.
  • On-Board – Upgraded radios, hardware, and software on all locomotives and control cars.
  • Communications – Reliably connecting the On-Board, Back Office, and Wayside segments via wireless (220 MHz radios) and a ground based network (fiber optics).

Schedule of Implementation

The MBTA is committed to meeting the FRA federal requirement of hardware installations by December 2018 (to get federal extension), and a fully operating system in place by December 2020. The MBTA has worked with ASTS to develop an installation schedule that will meet this timeline. This schedule identifies the need for weekend installation work in addition to nights and off peak-service hours in order to achieve the deadlines. With this schedule, it is expected that weekday Commuter Rail service will not be impacted by the PTC program.

This will require a phased line by line suspension of weekend Commuter Rail service. Shutdown schedules will be evaluated and may require adjustment throughout the execution of this Program.

The overlap of shutdowns of Commuter Rail lines is for flexibility in the schedule for early start/late finish. It is expected that no more than two lines will be shut down on any given weekend. (For example: for the Fairmont Line to shut down on Nov. 18, the shutdowns on either the Haverhill or Needham Line will have been completed.)

The Newburyport/Rockport Line weekend shutdowns have been scheduled to coincide with a scheduled shutdown for work associated with the Beverly Draw Bridge project. By incorporating some of the PTC work with the Beverly Draw Bridge project shutdown, the timeline for the Newburyport/Rockport Line work is reduced from 20 weeks to 13 weeks.

2017 shutdown schedule v2

2017 Weekend train service is projected to be suspended for:

  • The Newburyport/Rockport Line starting the weekend of July 8, 2017 through the weekend of September 30, 2017.
  • The Lowell Line starting the weekend of August 5, 2017 through the weekend of September 30, 2017.
  • The Needham Line starting the weekend of September 23, 2017 through the weekend of November 25, 2017.
  • The Haverhill Line starting the weekend of September 23, 2017 through the weekend of December 2, 2017.
  • The Fairmount Line starting the weekend of November 18, 2017 through the weekend of December 23, 2017.
  • 2018 PTC weekend shutdowns will be finalized by late 2017/early 2018 in order to start back up in Spring of 2018, and will impact the Franklin, Fitchburg, and Worcester Commuter Rail lines.
  • No weekend shutdowns are required on the Greenbush, Middleborough, Providence/Stoughton, and Kingston/Plymouth Commuter Rail lines.

More Information

Visit the US Department of Transportation Federal Railroad Admiration website on PTC for an overview of the federal requirements.

Contact this Program

Hotline: 617-721-7506