University of Wisconsin-Madison

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Interdisciplinary Professional Programs

Fundamentals of Railway Train Control and Signaling See upcoming dates

Course Overview

Upon completion of this course, you will be able to:

  • Describe manual block signaling, automatic block signaling, and vital circuits.
  • Identify the signaling principles related to system capacity, layout and headways.
  • Explain TCS (Traffic Control Systems) and ATC (Automatic Traffic Control).
  • Identify and illustrate multiple track circuit technology.
  • Explain the purpose of an interlocking and define the four types of basic switch locking logic that assures safe operation.
  • Describe and illustrate the general architecture and operation of a PTC system.
  • Describe the similarities and differences between in PTC technologies including IETMS, ACSES II, and ITCS.

Who Should Attend?

This entry-level course will teach you about the base systems architecture and function that are the foundation of signal and train control systems and PTC.  You will benefit if you are not an expert in train control and signaling but are working with railroads (or plan to be) and want a basic understanding of how signal systems are designed and operated.

Course Outline

Block Signal Design

  • Minimum system and signal requirements
  • Recommended practices (AREMA, APTA)
  • System characteristics
  • Minimum FRA signal system requirements
  • Common signal plan symbols
  • Rail system plans
  • Cab signals
  • Fixed block layouts (design, capacity, modeling)
  • Safe braking distances, formulas, charts, and speed commands

Traffic Control Systems (TCS)

  • Basic elements of TCS
  • Primary functions and accomplishments
  • Types of TCS
  • Automatic block signal locations and equipment
  • Minimum signal requirements
  • Block signal requirements
  • Moving block signaling
  • FRA automatic block definitions
  • Traffic control systems and functions
  • Basic principles and signal systems
  • Route and aspect chart

Electrical Fundamentals

  • Resistance and current
  • AC vs DC
  • Resistors, inductors, capacitors

Track Circuit Theory

  • FRA track circuit criteria
  • DC track circuit
  • AC power frequency circuit
  • Audio track frequency circuits
  • Track circuit based traffic control systems

Safety Assurance

  • Safety analysis and objectives
  • Fail-safe
  • Training


  • Interlocking overview and signaling
  • FRA interlocking requirements
  • Understanding switches
  • Route locking and FRA requirements
  • Detector and traffic locking
  • Interlocking design and logic
  • Interlocking examples

Positive Train Control

  • What is PTC and how does it work
  • How did we get here?
  • PTC legislation and FRA
  • Status of regulation and implementation
  • PTC system architecture and operation
  • Functional overview of operation
  • PTC system components
  • PTC systems
  • ITCS
  • Deployment status


"One of the best seminars in my 20+ years!  True industry experts sharing a wealth of knowledge in a well organized, professionally delivered manner."
—Keith Forman, Global Director Transit, Conductix, Inc., Omaha, Nebraska 

"I needed to get an overview and basic understanding of train control & signaling.  The course was great for this."
—Marie Benton, Sr. Manager Fleet Services Support, Dallas Area Rapid Transit, Dallas, Texas

"Great course! Very beneficial overview of fundamentals. Definition of signal blocks was excellent."
—Frederick Bakarich, Director of Capital Projects Metro, St. Louis, Missouri

"This course is an excellent, in depth introduction to PTC and how it is being implemented."
—Joshua Matthews, Project Engineer, Transportation Technology Center, Inc.


James Hoelscher

James R. Hoelscher is President of Hoelscher Consulting. Hoelscher has experience in development, implementation, and integration of railway signal and train control systems with a number of transit agencies, railroads, consultants, and contractors including Alstom and Invensys. He participated in the FRA RSAC meetings to develop the rules for PTC (236 Subpart I).

Robert MacDonald

Robert A. MacDonald has more than 40 years of experience in rail systems design and operations. As an operations manager he had responsibility for signal and communications systems design, maintenance, and operations functions that included meeting all safety and reliability needs for a major transit system. He also has many years of consulting experience with responsibilities that included the design, construction, commissioning, operations, and maintenance of transit systems.  He currently works for TSE, Inc. and lives in Boston, MA.

James Balliet

James Balliet is currently the Principal Rail Safety Engineer for TUV in Rochester, NY.  He has experience in the rail safety industry involving the development of vital signaling equipment (e.g. interlocking, track circuits, onboard communications) and evaluation of rail systems safety assurance (e.g. RAMS and Standards and Regulatory and Agency Certification Compliance).

Past dates