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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Incremental Train Control System

Incremental Train Control System (ITCS), developed by General Electric Transportation Systems (GETS) is a communication-based signaling system overlaid on an existing signal system. This is one class of PTC that was designed to prevent train collisions and overspeed derailments. The program of upgrading 66 miles of Amtrak owned Michigan Line between Kalamazoo and New Buffalo, Michigan to allow 110-mph operation with this PTC system was initiated with a co-operative effort among FRA, Michigan Department of Transportation, and Amtrak. The program started in 1996 with a contract for Harmon Electronics, which has since been acquired by General Electric, to develop the first ITCS demonstration on this corridor.

The main function of the system is to enforce signal authorities, civil speed limits and temporary speed limits. It was designed as a vital overlay to an existing CTC system with a wireless computer network of servers along these 66 miles with radio communication. These servers communicated with the equipped locomotives through the communication system consisting a UHF radio network based on ATCS Spec 200 frequencies. Unique to this system is the employment of TDMA (Time Division Multiple Access) scheme to reduce the message collisions in the air. With this scheme, the communication to a number of locomotives can be conducted with more ease. Unlike an office centric system like IDOT PTC, all the communication tasks are performed locally device-to-device. Most of the decision-making processes are made with the host processors on-board the locomotives. A computer in the office however is necessary to transmit the temporary speed restrictions to the server and to download the health of the system when it is necessary. Train tracking system is based on GPS (Global Position System.)

ITCS, being vital, means that it will ensure that all the messages are delivered properly and accurately, and will continuously perform surveillance of all devices and interfaces of the system to ensure they are in proper working conditions, and if not, a fail-safe fall back will be enforced. Another feature that is critical to high-speed operation is the advanced grade crossing activation. When the train approaches a crossing, continuous location tracking and calculation are performed and will activate the crossing gates using wireless communication, instead of the conventional track circuit, at the appropriate time to insure the optimum advanced activation time.

The system has been in revenue service since September 2000. At the beginning, the speed limit of 79 mph was kept to gain experience and confidence with the system. The maximum speed limit was subsequently raised to 90 mph in January 2002 and then to 95 mph in September 2005. The goal is to increase the speed to 110 mph in the 4th quarter of 2007.