Logo: University of Southern California

Evaluating Metrolink’s Deployment of Positive Train Control

May 11, 2012 —

The USC Viterbi School of Engineering, in partnership with Rail Safety Consulting (RSC), a subsidiary of TÜV Rheinland Rail Sciences, and with the support of the Southern California Regional Rail Authority (Metrolink), has been funded by the US Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to complete a research study of the implementation of Metrolink’s new Positive Train Control (PTC) system.

Metrolink is a five-county Joint Powers Authority (JPA) formed to provide commuter rail services to the Los Angeles region. The system currently includes seven lines spread out over six Southern California Counties, 55 stations, and serves 40,000 passengers per day.


Metrolink Route Map. Artwork courtesy of Ricky Courtney and Creative Commons

Metrolink has elected to establish itself as the national leader in the installation of a comprehensive PTC system. The agency also coexists with two major Class I railroads who are concurrently installing PTC, BNSF and UPRR. Metrolink conducts approximately 500 daily commuter, Amtrak inter-city passenger, and BNSF/UPRR freight trains. The speed, scope, and institutional aspects of this deployment require development of hardware systems designed to meet recent standards. The goals of the research are to evaluate and promote the development of new technologies that will improve the safety and efficiency of rail in the commuter rail operating environment, and to develop recommendations concerning best practices in the implementation of PTC systems.

Metrolink F59PH 860. Photo courtesy of Brian Zimmerman and Creative Commons
Metrolink Trains outside Union Station. Photo courtesy of  DownTowngal and Creative Commons

Launched at the end of 2011, the two-year evaluation project entitled "Technical and Institutional Evaluation of the Southern California Regional Rail Authority Positive Train Control Deployment Project" is funded at the level of $900K and will run through 2013. Viterbi School Vice Dean for Academic Programs Jim Moore assembled the research team and led the proposal effort. The other USC faculty investigators are Astani CEE / Epstein ISE Prof. Naj Meshkati and Epstein ISE Research Assistant Professor Greg Placencia, who will focus on human factors and safety; Ming Hsieh EE Profs. Petros Ioannou (Director, Center for Advanced Transportation Technologies), who will focus on control systems and braking algorithms, and Urbashi Mitra, who will focus on wireless communications systems and architectures; and Epstein ISE Prof. Maged Dessouky (Director, Epstein Institute), who will focus system level performance and simulation. Each investigator work with and support doctoral students The project will produce a simulation test bed for deployment of PTC systems, architectures, and technologies.

The collaborative research program compliments the ongoing safety initiative by the Viterbi School and Metrolink that brought 50 senior Metrolink supervisors, operators and experts to the USC campus for a landmark class in the fall of 2011—“Rail System Safety: Safety Culture and Human Performance,” led by Meshkati and Placencia. Over two days, the participants studied the lessons to be learned from a series of disasters, collisions and equipment failures in systems around the country, including the June 2009 Washington DC Metro crash.

The workshop was preceded by a Rail Safety Summit that drew representatives of all major U.S. railroads, professional railroad associations, labor organizations and government. More collaborative events are ahead.