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Positive Train Control (PTC) Overview and Update

The Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (RSIA) mandated Positive Train Control (PTC) be implemented across a significant portion of the Nation's rail industry by December 31, 2015 .  This deadline has since been extended to December 31, 2018.  Lines requiring PTC are essentially Class I railroad main lines (i.e., over which 5 million or more gross tons are transported annually) that handle any poisonous-inhalation-hazardous (PIH) materials; and, any railroad main lines over which regularly scheduled intercity passenger or commuter rail services are provided.  Nationwide, PTC is expected to be implemented over a total of approximately 70,000 miles of track.

PTC refers to communication-based/processor-based train control technology that provides a system capable of reliably and functionally preventing train-to-train collisions, overspeed derailments, incursions into established work zone limits, and the movement of a train through a main line switch in the improper position.

PTC systems are required, as applicable, to perform other additional specified functions.  PTC systems vary widely in complexity and sophistication based on the level of automation and functionality they implement, the system architecture used, the wayside system upon which they are based (e.g., non-signaled, block signal, cab signal, etc.), and the degree of train control they are capable of assuming.

A Diagram of how PTC functions

A Diagram of how PTC functions

The primary concept in PTC (as defined for North American Class I freight railroads) is that the train receives information about its location and where it is allowed to safely travel, also known as movement authorities.  Equipment on board the train then enforces this, preventing unsafe movement.  PTC systems may work in either dark territory or signaled territory, and may use GPS navigation to track train movements.  The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has listed among its goals, "To deploy the Nationwide Differential Global Positioning System (NDGPS) as a nationwide, uniform, and continuous positioning system, suitable for train control."
 
On April 4, 2016, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) announced that it was accepting applications for $25 million in competitive grant funding available to railroads, suppliers, and state and local governments for Positive Train Control (PTC) implementation.  The funding is part of the 2016 Consolidated Appropriations Act that funds the U.S. Department of Transportation. 

“Positive train control is a long overdue technology that prevents accidents and saves lives,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.  These funds will help us get closer to implementing PTC, and I encourage applications that can make these limited dollars go as far as possible.”
Applications will be accepted until May 19, 2016, and FRA will give preference to projects that would provide the greatest level of public safety benefits.  As part of the President’s Fiscal Year 2017 budget proposal, FRA requested $1.25 billion to assist commuter and short line railroads with implementing PTC.

Current Status of Rail Organizations PTC Compliance by Year

Benefits

PTC prevents certain train-to-train collisions, over-speed derailments, incursions into established work zone limits, and trains going to the wrong tracks because a switch was left in the wrong position.  In 2008, Congress mandated PTC implementation on certain railroad main lines where railroads transport poisonous-by-inhalation hazardous (PIH) or toxic-by-inhalation hazardous (TIH) materials, or any line where a railroad provides regularly scheduled passenger service.  Last October, Congress extended the original deadline from December 31, 2015 to at least December 31, 2018. 

 “Any Congressional funding and investment to make Positive Train Control active on our nation’s railroad network is a worthwhile investment,” said FRA Administrator Sarah E. Feinberg. “But it will take even more significant funding to achieve this important, life-saving goal.  We look forward to working with Congress to find these resources and encourage railroads to submit strong applications.”

Various other benefits are sometimes associated with PTC such as increased fuel efficiency or locomotive diagnostics; these are benefits that can be achieved by having a wireless data system to transmit the information, whether it be for PTC or other applications.

Since 2008, FRA has provided significant assistance to support railroads’ PTC implementation.  Those efforts include:

  • Providing more than $650 million in grant funds to passenger railroads, including nearly $400 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 funding;
  • Issuing a nearly $1 billion loan to the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority to implement PTC on the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad;
  • Building a PTC testbed at the Transportation Technology Center in Pueblo, Colorado;
  • Working directly with the Federal Communications Commission and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation to resolve issues related to spectrum use and improve the approval process for PTC communication towers; and
  • Dedicating staff to work on PTC implementation, including establishing a PTC task force.
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Challenges

Installation of a PTC system requires an extraordinary effort (estimates), including: 

  • A complete physical survey and highly precise geo-mapping of the 60,000 miles of railroad right-of-way on which PTC technology will be installed, including geo-mapping of nearly 474,000 field assets (mileposts, curves, grade crossings, switches, and signals).
  • Installing PTC technology on approximately 22,000 locomotives and approximately 36,000 wayside interface units.
  • Installing PTC on nearly 4,800 switches in non-signaled territory and completing more than 12,300 signal replacement projects at locations where the existing signal equipment cannot accommodate PTC.
  • Developing, producing, and deploying a new radio system and new radios specifically designed for the massive data transmission requirements of PTC at 4,200 base stations, 33,700 trackside locations, and on approximately 22,000 locomotives.
  • Developing back office systems and upgrading dispatching software to incorporate the data and precision required for PTC.
  • Installing more than 20,000 new antenna structures nationwide to transmit PTC signals.

Status/Updates

It was recently announced that the FRA gave Philadelphia’s Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) written authorization to start provisional revenue service operations for its PTC system.  SEPTA launched PTC on April 18; and is the first commuter line in the U.S. to Run ACSES (Advanced Civil Speed Enforcement System), which is a PTC-compliant system.  
In December, 2015, travelers taking Amtrak between New York City and Philadelphia were officially protected by a new crash-prevention system, PTC.

Amtrak activated its version of positive train control between the two cities, the last stretch of its tracks on the busy Northeast Corridor to get the system.  As a result, Amtrak is meeting a federal year-end deadline that Congress recently extended to December 2018, amid protests by many freight and commuter railroads.

Closing

While the deadline for Positive Train Control (PTC) implementation imposed by the Federal Government has been extended, there is much work to do in a relatively short time frame. At JFC & Associates, our organization is prepared to help facilitate your organizations goals of gathering real time asset information. Beyond PTC, having both the vision and control over your assets is critical to your success. Version configuration and failure / trend analysis reporting is a critical element of a successful PTC implementation and long term reliability and asset sustainability. Please contact us today for more information.

When Planning Fails

Without question, people make mistakes. People make terrible decisions, many times having a tremendous impact. Simply put, people have a pretty bad track record when it comes to developing a plan that is followed and produces the desired results. One of the more significant mistakes that we encounter organizations making on a daily basis is how to deal with a plan that fails. How do we admit that we were wrong and more importantly, how do we learn from this mistake and make changes to the plan?

Within the context of this blog's central focus, asset management, the strategic planning required to operate facilities assets at the highest possible return is a tremendous undertaking. Right now, if you look at the landscape of asset management, you're starting to see positions like Chief Asset Officer and Vice President of Asset Management, titles that used to be reserved for financial asset services, now trending towards the built environment. This should signal a shift - organizations are placing, now more than ever, a major focus on life cycle asset management.

Because of this shift, these strategic asset management plans are being tested to their fullest capacity and many times, people are failing to make the adjustments to keep in line with the overall business goals of the maintenance and operations department. As you encounter failures in the plan, you need to follow the appropriate steps to make changes.

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Much like an asset's life cycle, planning also requires a cyclical approach. Reviewing your various asset management activities periodically to ensure that the appropriate steps are being followed in the support of your asset management plan. Don't have an Asset Management plan? Contact us today to learn more about how JFC & Associates can partner with you in the development of a robust strategy to achieve operational excellence.

Measurement is the first step that leads to control and eventually to improvement. If you can’t measure something, you can’t understand it. If you can’t understand it, you can’t control it. If you can’t control it, you can’t improve it.
— H. James Harrington

The Pursuit of Excellence - That was so Yesterday

I recently came across a rather profound statement that got me thinking about the asset management world and how very applicable it is:

Yesterday's Excellence

is

Today's Standard

and

Tomorrow's Mediocrity

Wow. This is without question one of the more powerful statements that I can and hope to pass along to folks within the asset management realm.

I find that, as an industry, we are caught within the gravitational pull of legacy. We've done it this way for X number of years and it's worked, why should we change things? Just because you've done something well in the past doesn't mean that it's going to be a gateway to the future. Given the exponential change that is happening in our world, why should asset management be devoid of improvement?

When you've reached a certain level of excellence, many times organizations become comfortable, and ultimately, stagnant. The level and comfort of complacency sets in and opportunities are missed.

Have you implemented any of the more famous maintenance methodologies? FMEA? RCM? RCM2? TPM? Are you focusing on predictive maintenance activities? Do you know when your equipment is going to fail? Do you chart out your OEE (overall equipment effectiveness)? I ask all of these rhetorical questions not to suggest that you need to do all of these things or any of them for that matter - more to point out that even if you are utilizing the asset management tools mentioned, there is still opportunity to improve. As an organization you need to consider all of the available tools and technology available within your sphere of operation, ALWAYS. Any opportunities that you find need to be effectively and clearly identified and prioritized as they pertain to your overall business goals.

With this mindset, I'm not suggesting you test the water with both feet. You need to maintain the day to day but explore within your area of influence how to leave things just a little bit better than you found them. It's a hard concept to accept - assets age and deteriorate - we know that. But this is more about the process surrounding that asset - you want to make the 'best life' for it, give it the care and attention it needs and ensure it's purpose is being met. A great example I can think of is thermography. This technology didn't exist until the 50's (sure it dates back to 400 BC when Hippocrates would rub some mud on the body and see what dried first) - it's application for the tracking of troop movements being a significant benefit to armies around the world. Fast forward to today - thermography is used for many different things and condition monitoring being one of the more important advances within the field of asset management. Detect roof leak locations, facade problems, window gasket failures, motor bearing issues, panel board breaker problems. Point being, the technology is there and has proven to save thousands of dollars in a multitude of different ways.

So as the new years starts, ask yourself the important question - are you going to live in yesterday's excellence or strive towards a goal of continual process improvement?

The Health and Well Being of Your CMMS

When was the last time you took a good hard look at your computerized maintenance management software system and asked it these sorts of questions - What have you done for me lately? Did you help me prevent an equipment failure? Did you let me know that work orders were being completed without time and materials being tracked? When was the last time you notified me of an emergency work request while I was on vacation?

All of these questions, while very tongue and cheek, point to a major problem within the CMMS marketplace right now. Vendors come along, install the system, get you up and running and off you go! Well I'm here to tell you, unless you're exercising continual process improvement within your CMMS, you're missing opportunities. You're costing your organization money, not realizing the full potential of your CMMS and frankly, when it comes time to upgrade your system, you've failed again in not having a system that is 'up to date' with the latest best practices/patches/work flow, etc. The domino effect can shatter the bottom line of any organization...

It doesn't really matter what your CMMS is. Whether it is best in class products like SAP or IBM Maximo, or other smaller market (but still valuable) systems like FM Systems or Infor EAM - are you leveraging everything the product has to offer? Are you examining your business processes in such a way that you're consistently applying the available technology in order to improve on these processes? I can say that without question, an organization that prides itself on maintenance best practices and optimal use of their CMMS, they are leading the way in their respective industries.

The CMMS is the one part of your organization that realistically touches every aspect of your business - think about that statement - it affects people, materials, locations, assets, scheduling, planning, financials, vendor management - etc. And consider the cost - you've made a significant investment and you're not doing anything to nurture it? I'm not talking about what types of reports we can get out of the system, I'm talking about configuration of work flow, asset hierarchies, database triggers, email notifications, work order escalations, asset performance monitoring - the nuts and bolts stuff.

"To leave your CMMS unattended, not giving it the proper attention - you're made a decision that will impact your organization in a very negative way".

If anyone is interested in an analysis of your CMMS, business process and an honest assessment of where you are at with your CMMS - please reach out, I'd very much like the opportunity to speak with you about your concerns and see if we can't put together a road map to get you back on track. You can us by email at: contact@jfc-associates.com. We look forward to speaking with you about your CMMS goals and vision and where best practices can help you achieve success.

Boston, You're My Home

Boston PrayersHaving spent my formative years attending Northeastern University in Boston and having spent quite a few Marathon Monday's down along Boylston Street, it deeply saddens me with what has transpired. You can't imagine the pain, you can't fathom the reason, you can't understand how someone could do something like this, but still - time and time again we're seeing the worst of human beings. Despite all that, I am always amazed with how we as people can react. We are seeing some of the best. Mr. Rodgers summed it up best: Mr. Rodgers

 

Those individuals who rushed into the chaos, not thinking of their own safety, the true hero's of this great tragedy, these people who just helped - that is the human spirit. I read this story and it really touched me -

Carlos Arredono

His name is Carlos Arredondo. He is an immigrant citizen of the U.S. who lost his son in Iraq and is now a peace activist and speaker. Carlos Arredondo is holding a tourniquet on a man who had his legs removed by the blast. There used to be leg around what he is holding, but now this true American is literally keeping him alive with his bare hands. He lost Both of his sons. Alexander died while doing a tour in Iraq, and Brian committed suicide in 2011 after falling into depression and becoming a heavy drug user, But when everyone ran away from the bombs, he ran in and helped as many people as he could, he did not want other parents to feel what it was like to lose a child. This man is a true HERO!

So this day and every day forward...live your life, live for today as we are not guaranteed tomorrow and never forget that despite all the evil in this world, there are far more people who have the compassion, heart and human spirit to rush in and help each other. We're all Bostonians today...

And remember....

Boondock

Asset Hierarchy - The Importance of Breadth vs. Depth

I happened upon this great 'meme' this morning and had to literally laugh out loud. Mr. T

Definitely something I wish I could say walking into a meeting about asset hierarchies with my clients. Alas, we have to use more professional terms to help people understand the importance of the breadth versus the depth of their hierarchies.

I can't begin to tell you how many clients and organizations I've worked with that are very proud of how deep their asset hierarchies are and have component level information that rivals NASA in terms of detail. The question that needs to be raised, and I temper this response by saying that every organization is unique and has their own type of requirements, who is maintaining this level of detail and at what cost?

It's not always about the depth of your asset hierarchy, it's about the breadth. If you have refined detail about your assets that go 7 levels down a hierarchy, how much is this information costing you to maintain? Frankly, is it being maintained?

The second, and I mean the second, you have information in your CMMS or IWMS that is not accurate, you're starting down a bad path. You won't see the impact on the balance sheet immediately, you'll see the impact in the hearts and minds of the people who maintain your assets. If they don't 'trust the system' you're going to start sliding downhill fast. After all, if they don't trust the system, how are you going to trust that they are actually updating and maintaining the level of reporting you require to ensure asset function?

My advice to those who have a bloated hierarchy of assets, understand what it is you're trying to accomplish in a more holistic way. Any time I engage with clients on this topic I immediately ask them to 'think with the end in mind'. This is an important thing to consider as ultimately if you need to report down to the component level about assets then by all means maintain this level of hierarchy. If your goal is to report on assets over a certain dollar amount (need to get the financial folks in the room to determine how your building is being depreciated to better define this) then why would it make sense to track items at a more granular level? Think about what the deferred capital planning report is going to look like - are you putting together a deferred maintenance plan to replace the components of a cooling tower or is there a better chance that you're going to replace the entire darn thing! I'm not suggesting that you don't keep information about the components associated to the asset but this can be done via a spare parts list, O&M documents and inventory associations to the asset. Point being, it doesn't belong in the asset hierarchy.

When developing an asset hierarchy, I tend to focus on a more 'virtual' or system type approach. Assets within your buildings are connected, via pipe, wire, duct, steel, concrete - they have a natural hierarchy. With this in mind, I would suggest that you create these systems as your top level, think HVAC, PLUMBING, ELECTRICAL, FIRE/LIFE SAFETY, BUILDING ENVELOPE, etc. Once you have this starting point, it's much easier to think about what 'bin' these assets should be put into. Once they are in their systems, it will be much easier to decide how deep you need to go. I tend to think that from a component level, think of the criticality of the asset and it's impact to your business and work from there. There is absolutely no need to maintain asset hierarchies down to the actuator level on a fan coil unit, however, down to the actuator level on an exhaust fan/duct may be critical. It's all about the function/impact to your organization.

When dealing with asset hierarchies, it's far more important to have a complete picture (the breadth) of your organizations asset condition and health versus refined detail about how these assets are related. As I've said, every organization is different, manufacturing for instance, will have the need for very refined detail when reporting on their production equipment. Still, the importance of having a solid foundation built on consistency across your asset portfolio is critical.

So to close things out, while it is important to have an asset hierarchy that allows you a proper picture of how a buildings assets are related, it can be wrought with potential for failure should you try to maintain this system too deep. Understanding the breadth of your organizations assets and being able to report across systems and their performance is something that will do a far better job of providing a true return on asset.

Turning Data Into Information, What Data Alone Is Really Costing You

One of the more critical concepts I try to work with our clients on is understanding the need to transform data into information. Alan Weiss @BentleyGTCSpeed, prominent management consultant, in his book Million Dollar Consulting, references the role of the consultant in that of transforming data into information, information developing into knowledge and lastly, the knowledge you have becoming wisdom. Wisdom is where we as consultants are supposed to provide our value added service. Some do this more than others but the concept I'm addressing in this blog post is really not about consulting, it's about the trans-formative power that can be achieved by transferring data into ultimately wisdom about your organization. What I've done is applied this concept to two different preventative maintenance strategies and how being at the appropriate place within this pyramid of wisdom will greatly effect your organizations operating costs. If you're involved in the management of preventative maintenance or deal with facilities maintenance in any capacity, please follow along to see how one example of what bad data or no data at all is really costing your organization.

The Scenario - Reactive Preventative Maintenance

Your role is that of Preventative Maintenance Supervisor. You're responsible for the monthly preventative maintenance tasks of Air Handling Units (among probably 100 other assets). Your goal is to ensure their reliability and preserve their function (another blog post about this later - Shifting the Paradigm From Preserving The Asset to Preserving It's Function) of providing comfort heating and cooling. There are a series of tasks you need to perform but one thing that every PM for these units calls for in the job plan are filters

If you have a general idea of what filter sizes you'll need chances are you'll do the following:

  • Rifle through your file cabinet (physical or virtual) to figure out 'how many we ordered last time'.
  • Order enough filters to get the work done in the building you have scheduled for this month (Estimated cost of $1,000 per building, per month) - So roughly $12,000 a year for filters (you can argue whatever you'd like in terms what this number really should be, just follow along).
  • Chances are your technician will come back with a few units that the filters are the wrong size, you'll make note of this on a piece of paper for 'next time' and order the right size ones to 'get to it next week'. The ones that didn't fit will sit on a shelf or more often, in the box right next to the air handler, once again, 'till next time'.
  • You'll send the technicians to the store room and have them move the filters to the building they are working on, chances are they will take a day to setup the job, most likely with two staff people - after all there are a lot of boxes to move! Chances are the store room is holding thousands of filters on the shelf with carrying costs that I don't even want to get into right now.
  • Let's say you have a rather simple system, 4 air handling units and it should take your staff about 16 man hours to do this one building.
  • The come back, complete their work order and you sign off on another building complete.
  • Next day - new building and a new order for filters and start the process again.

What did this scenario really cost in terms of dollars:

  • Annual filter cost for the building $12,000
  • Annual labor costs factoring in overhead ($50 per hour) to install the filters $9,600
  • Annual labor costs factoring overhead to get the PM job setup by building (let's be nice and say it's only 2 techs at 4 hours each - highly reasonable assumption) $4,800
  • Total cost to replace filters for one building annually $26,400
  • You have 40 buildings in this similar HVAC system configuration so you're expecting to spend a little over $1,000,000 annually with this strategy

Now let's look at how a different strategy is going to save you money, simply by having information to inform your decision making.

The Scenario - Informed Preventative Maintenance

Your Air Handling Units are assets actively maintained in your Computerized Maintenance Management Software (CMMS). You have been capturing their average run time based on meter readings you've had automatically loaded via your building automation system. You are monitoring this scenario for all 40 buildings on your campus and are forecasting a projected 120 AHU's are going to need filter replacements this month. This scenario is commonly referred to as  a 'meter based' PM program - nothing new or earth shattering here with the methodology.

  • Because you're forecasting out the needs for the next three months based on average run time you've determined the order quantities you'll need for the next three months.
  • You contract out to the vendor who supplies your filters and receive a 10% discount based on an economic order quantity (this is standard stuff here and if you're not getting a discount for economic order quantities, you need a new vendor).
  • You've also contracted with the vendor that he needs to 'drop ship' all filters to each location 1 business day prior to your scheduled PM work (at no additional cost) and you will pay net 30 terms.
  • Your technicians arrive on the job site with the materials already delivered and have a work order indicating exactly what air handlers in the building are being PM'ed and are only working on the units necessary. The are able to start work immediately finishing the building in 4 hours and moving onto the next.

Look at the potential savings points here - 10% reduction in materials cost just by having KNOWLEDGE about your systems. Nearly $200,000 in hourly staff expense reduced by not having to be 'delivery men or women'. Rather than eliminating positions, you are able to perform more meaningful work. You're not paying HVAC technicians to be delivery men or women, you're paying for their specialized skill sets.  

If you look at our original proposal for this campus environment, you're spending nearly 30% more of your operating dollars just because you don't have information. Simply knowing how many air handlers you have and how many filters you need to buy is not enough. You need INFORMATION rich data that can be transformed into KNOWLEDGE about your systems with the goal to provide the WISDOM to operate an effective operations and maintenance department. Even if you have a load balanced PM program without meter readings you're already one step ahead of the game - you know what you need to buy and when and you've going to get better order quantities and drop shipping - you've already won!

Obviously, every environment and process to perform this work you come across is going to be different.  This is just one very simple example and one that I've personally addressed with a client (names and dollar amounts have been changed or removed to protect the guilty). Please know that this is just a simple example that you can plug your own math into and see how much money you're wasting every day - extrapolate this out to the various other functions of your maintenance department and you'll start to see where you're leaking operating dollars left and right.

If you look at your maintenance organization and start to think about all the different areas you are wasting money, simply by not having information available to make informed decisions  you will never make the leap to being a best in class maintenance group.

75% - What The Other 25% Is Costing You Every Day

While there are many articles out there that speak to the point that maintenance is where your true cost of ownership is, how many of us have taken a good hard look at what the cost of a building really does to effect the 'total cost of ownership'? I would venture a guess that most organizations will try their best when building new facilities to reduce the upfront cost of the project. This has been ingrained in our psyche since we were young - why pay more for something now when I don't know if I'll ever realize the savings? Sure buying that inexpensive compact car is going to save you money up front, but what are the typical repair costs and how long can you expect to keep it on the road? If you are in a position to make decisions about your organizations capital planning and infrastructure  you need to understand holistically what happens when you're given the keys to your new space.

I've been in the maintenance and operations field for over 14 years now and can say that when it comes to dealing with this ever important issue of building maintenance, it is quite apparent that either the bean counters or the construction companies have never operated a building. How many times has a fan coil unit been installed in such a way that the maintenance mechanic can't access the filter? How many times have contractors, most likely the low bidder, use inferior products because they meet minimum code? My favorite and most recent one, an Air Handling Unit installed with it's filter access door inaccessible - so much so that they had to take the wall out to change the filters!

I ask this questions rhetorically as ultimately we have all encountered similar situations in the field. What I am suggesting is that when it comes time to develop your specifications for your new building, get the maintenance staff involved in the design process. They are, after all  the people who are going to need to maintain the building!

Some key points to consider:

  • What type of HVAC system is being installed and what type of maintenance activities are going to be necessary to maintain it? Just because you can save a few bucks on a 'two pipe' system doesn't mean you're going to save that over the cost of the buildings life.
  • How is your building being monitored? Do you have the appropriate controls system in place to perform continuous commissioning?
  • What type of flooring are you utilizing? How often will the carpet you selected need to be changed and at what cost? Did you install high end slate floors? Do you have the staff on hand or a means to support the necessary maintenance for this floor type?
  • Is your facility going to be a LEED facility? If so, at what cost to you over the buildings life cycle?
  • Are you utilizing BIM (Building Information Modeling) to build your facility? If so, do you have your facilities manager in the room when the building is being virtually constructed? (This should most definitely be a 'yes' answer on both fronts).

More posts to come on this subject but looking forward to hearing comments to develop the conversation further!