SAFETY AND SECURITY: Amtrak Expects Positive Train Control will be Interoperable with Other Railroads but Could Better Measure System Reliability

December 11, 2020 |  Audit Reports

Our objective for this report was to assess the extent to which the company’s systems are interoperable with its hosts and tenants, and the company is ensuring that its systems are on and continuously operating.


Amtrak expects its Positive Train Control (PTC) systems to operate with other railroads where the company runs on their tracks or it allows them to use the company’s tracks. Effective program management has helped the company achieve this progress. 


Amtrak, however, can take steps to better ensure its systems are on, operating continuously, are reliable, and are using accurate data to guide their operations. We found that Amtrak cannot fully measure PTC reliability because it does not have the electronic tools to easily access the data necessary for it and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to monitor system performance. As a result, reports on PTC reliability are incomplete and Amtrak cannot easily identify potential problems it may need to address promptly or longer-term. 


The company also faces two risks that may diminish the safety benefits PTC is intended to provide. First, the systems sometimes do not initialize before a train leaves a station or may disengage along a route. Program officials pointed out that, when such incidents occur, trains must still abide by traditional measures to ensure safe operations, such as obeying signaling systems and rules that guide engineers. The FRA will require stringent practices to address these situations be implemented by January 2022.


Second, the systems require accurate data to know when to enforce temporary speed restrictions or prohibit trains from entering areas where employees are working, but dispatchers must manually enter these data into the systems. The company takes steps to help ensure the data dispatchers enter are accurate, but there is still a risk of human error.


To address the findings, we recommended that the company research options for electronic tools to access data needed to monitor PTC performance and submit what it selects for funding consideration. In addition, we recommended that Amtrak determine what, if any, additional mitigations are needed when PTC does not operate as intended and initiate its plan to assess the risk of incorrect data entry.

Tracking Number