The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) launched a proceeding in May of this year regarding the implementation of positive train control (PTC), a federally mandated communications system designed to prevent train-to-train collisions, derailments, and other railway accidents.   

The proposed PTC rules respond to the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, which require passenger and major freight railroads to implement PTC on most major track lines by December 31, 2015.

The FCC sought comment from freight and passenger railroads and related parties regarding the spectrum needs for this new communications-based network linking trains to equipment along the track and centralized office locations, as well as how the Commission might facilitate a process for the acquisition of any spectrum needed to comply with the PTC requirements of the Federal Railroad Administration.

Comments filed in the proceeding reflected strong support from the freight and passenger railroads for additional spectrum in the frequency bands between 217-222 MHz, which include the Automated Maritime Telecommunications System (AMTS), Interactive Video and Data Service (IVDS), and 220 MHz spectrum bands. 

The major freight railroads have already purchased 220 MHz spectrum to meet their PTC needs for most of the U.S. and are now starting to work on building out their system. Amtrak and many passenger railways urged the FCC to reallocate fallow spectrum in the AMTS, IVDS, and 220 MHz bands and award it to qualified applicants for PTC use through a one-time filing window. 

The railroads also asked the FCC to grant any necessary waivers of its technical and licensing rules to ensure implementation of PTC by the 2015 deadline. Comments were filed in June and reply comments were filed in mid-July, and the proceeding remains pending before the Mobility Division of the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau.