Improving railway operational efficiency with moving blocks, train fleeting and alternative single-track configurations

Diaz de Rivera, A., C.T. Dick and L.E. Evans. 2020. Improving railway operational efficiency with moving blocks, train fleeting and alternative single-track configurations. Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board. 2674 (2): 146-157. doi:10.1177/0361198120905842.


With installation of positive train control (PTC) on many U.S. rail corridors, Class I railroads may soon leverage these investments in communications network infrastructure to implement ‘‘advanced PTC’’ systems incorporating moving blocks. Train control with moving blocks can benefit operating strategies that dispatch fleets of multiple trains running at minimum headways. On single-track corridors with passing sidings long enough to hold multiple trains, fleeting may increase the efficiency of train meets, reduce train delay, and yield incremental capacity benefits. Alternative single-track configurations with fleetlength sidings at double the spacing of conventional single-train sidings can facilitate these operating strategies while minimizing additional track infrastructure and associated capital and maintenance costs. To investigate the operational synergies between moving blocks, fleeting, and longer but less frequent sidings, Rail Traffic Controller software is used to simulate and compare the delay performance of train operations on representative rail corridors for different combinations of fleeting strategy, train control system, siding configuration, and freight traffic composition. Operating fleets in conjunction with moving blocks produces the lowest overall train delay in specific cases of low schedule flexibility and heterogeneous traffic. With more efficient meets, moving blocks and/or fleeting primarily benefit low priority trains that typically wait for opposing traffic during train meets. Such incremental line capacity benefits have short-term financial consequences as they allow additional capital investments in double track to be deferred. Knowledge of train delay performance under moving blocks and fleeting will aid railway practitioners evaluating investments in advanced PTC systems and track infrastructure expansion.