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CP and Positive Train Control

Under the United States Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, Congress mandated installation of a technology called Positive Train Control (PTC) on much of the U.S. rail system. Subsequently, the Positive Train Control Enforcement and Implementation Act extended the deadline to Dec. 31, 2018, with the possibility of an alternate schedule extending the end of 2020. CP has been working since the initial Congressional mandate to design and implement PTC, and to train employees on the technology. CP is progressing well on full implementation, and is committed to completion by Dec. 31, 2020, as the law mandates.   

CP's Safety Record

For the past 13 years, CP has maintained the lowest Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) train accident frequency rate of all North American Class 1 railroads. CP has done this by investing billions of dollars in its rail network, improving its safety culture, improving its training programs, deploying new technology and striving for continual improvement on safety, among other efforts.

What PTC is, and what it means to CP

Positive Train Control is a safety overlay technology capable of preventing certain derailments and collisions. The system uses GPS, wayside equipment and back-office computers. These systems monitor exactly where trains are at any given time, how fast they are moving, where they can safely operate, and how long it will take any given train to stop. If a crew's inaction creates the risk of a train moving into an area of track where it should not be, the system is capable of braking the train before that can happen. PTC can also prevent trains from exceeding allowable track speed, and stop trains short of hazards such as misaligned track switches or personnel carrying out scheduled work on the track.

Even as PTC brings with it the capability of preventing these critically important categories of accidents, it is not a solution to most train incidents. PTC will not prevent accidents caused by track or mechanical defects, for example. Nor will it prevent some human-factor incidents, such as yard-switching incidents and train-handling errors. Finally, PTC will not prevent grade-crossing collisions.


The challenges PTC presents, and how CP is progressing

PTC has never been implemented on a network as complex as the U.S. freight rail system. The Congressional mandate applies to all seven Class 1 railroads in the U.S., plus many passenger, commuter and shortline freight operations. Since these operators interchange, intersect and share tracks with one another, the various players must harmonize their PTC systems with the others. Without "interoperability," it would not be possible for railroads to connect railcars with one another, which would cripple the industry's ability to deliver the products Americans use in their everyday personal and business lives.

The effort includes each railroad retrofitting locomotives and other equipment from numerous manufacturers. Additionally, some railroads are deploying different equipment than others. CP is coordinating closely with its partners at the other railroads and with vendors to harmonize the various systems, and will achieve full interoperability, but it is taking substantial time and effort.

Also critical is the need to protect the PTC system from cybersecurity threats. The industry's programmers and designers must consider security issues in everything they do.

Further complicating matters, America's freight trains vary greatly in length and weight based on the needs of customers from day to day. To function properly, the PTC system must always monitor exact stopping distance for any train at any time, which is constantly changing as trains ascend and descend hills and valleys. This real-time calculation and recalculation must be based on real-world conditions. Technology experts employed by America's railroads have designed a system that accounts for all these variables, but it has taken years to do it, and their work is not done yet. 

And PTC is not just software. Part of CP's PTC effort has been obtaining permits for and construction of communications towers, and retrofitting locomotives with PTC equipment. CP must also train busy employees in the safe operation and maintenance of PTC hardware and software, all at its own cost.

CP has completed all locomotive, wayside hardware installation and obligatory training, and implemented majority of route-miles where PTC must be installed. Work toward full implementation continues. CP provides quarterly reports on its progress to the FRA, and the latest progress updates are available at

Next steps

In October 2015, Congress passed the Positive Train Control Enforcement and Implementation Act, which extended the statutory deadline for PTC installation to the end of 2018. In order to allow time for railroads to adequately test their systems and deal with interoperability challenges, the act provides that railroads may adopt alternative schedules that allow for up to an additional two years to implement PTC fully. To proceed on an alternative schedule, railroads were required to meet certain statutory requirements by the end of 2018. CP met the statutory requirements, including completing installation of all hardware and required training, and commencing PTC operations on a majority of its PTC-required route-miles. The FRA has accepted and approved CP's alternative schedule and revised implementation plan which provides for full implementation by the end of 2020. CP is progressing well on full implementation, and work continues across CP's U.S. network.