FCC Approves PTC Stations for Southern California Rail Authority
Monday, October 26, 2020 | Comments

The FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau (WTB) granted a license modification to the Southern California Regional Rail Authority (SCRRA) giving the organization permanent authority to operate a variety of devices related to positive train control (PTC).

Under the modification, SCRRA now has permanent authority to operate 17 PTC wireless base stations, 546 PTC wireless radio wayside stations and related mobile locomotive stations under the automated maritime telecommunications system (AMTS) call sign WQYR421.

The action authorizes SCRRA, which operates the Metrolink commuter railroad, to deploy a Congressionally-mandated, interoperable PTC system on its rail lines serving Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties. The modification will also benefit three railroads — Amtrak, the BNSF Railway and the Union Pacific Railroad (UP) — that operate as tenants on portions of the SCRRA rail network.

Congress passed the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 following a catastrophic rail accident in Chatsworth, California, when a Metrolink commuter train collided with a Union Pacific freight train, killing 25 passengers and injuring more than 100 in 2008. A National Transportation Safety Board found that a Metrolink engineer failed to appropriately respond to a red signal and that a PTC system would have stopped the Metrolink train short of the red signal preventing the fatal collision.

The Rail Safety Act required most U.S. freight, passenger and commuter railroads to install and operate interoperable PTC systems by Dec. 31, 2018. Four railroads met that deadline and others that had not met the requirements could request an up-to-two year extension to Dec. 31, 2020.

SCRRA first applied to the commission to acquire spectrum for its PTC system in 2010, by requesting a partition composed of Metrolink’s five-county service territory and neighboring San Diego County from AMTS license WQGF318, licensed to Maritime Communications/Land Mobile (MCLM). That assignment application included a request for waiver of several technical rules to facilitate Metrolink’s use of the spectrum for PTC.

SCRRA narrowed the scope of its waiver request on Oct. 20, 2015 and June 8, 2016. In September 2016, the WTB consented to the spectrum assignment application and granted the amended waiver request. SCRRA consummated its spectrum acquisition in December 2016.

Metrolink is currently deploying PTC for testing purposes under a special temporary authorization (STA) on the same spectrum in the same geographic area. SCRRA told the FCC that it had received no reports of interference related to the PTC operations under the STA.

While AMTS geographic licensees generally are authorized to deploy base stations anywhere within their licensed geographic areas, the commission’s rules require individual licensing of base stations located less than 105 miles from a channel 13 TV station or less than 80 miles from a channel 10 TV station. SCRRA asked the FCC to modify its geographic license area license under its call sign to individually authorize on a permanent, non-STA basis, and subject to its license term, operation of 17 base stations and 546 wayside stations. SCRRA said the stations meet the FCC’s individual station licensing criteria.

SCRRA also requested a waiver of the commission’s rules so that it and its tenant railroad partners may operate locomotive radios at up to 50 watts transmitter power output (TPO) with an effective radiated power (ERP) up to 39 watts. SCRRA also requested a waiver of another section of the FCC’s rules that require SCRRA to file a separate FCC form for authorization of each of its 546 wayside radio stations.

The FCC granted all of the waiver requests.

“We have reviewed the license modification application, engineering report, interference mitigation plan, waiver request and all other filings in the record before us, and we find that the public interest in facilitating rail safety will be served by granting SCRRA permanent authority to operate 17 PTC wireless radio base stations, 546 PTC wireless wayside stations and related PTC wireless radio mobile stations,” the FCC said.

Find the full order here.

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