“Oh What a Tangled Web We Weave”


Thomas J. McGean, P.E.


Delivered at the APTA Annual Meeting

 Orlando FL, October 12, 1999



Standards activity is currently at a fever pitch in the transit industry, with efforts underway in all modes, including bus, rail, light rail, commuter rail, and automated people movers.  Financial support is coming not only from within the transit industry itself but from the DOT Joint Program Office for Intelligent Transportation Systems, the Federal Railroad Administration, the Federal Transit Administration, and the Transit Cooperative Research Program. Because of the large number of related standards activities, it is difficult even for those of us in the thick of the fray to keep track of what is going on.  My challenge this morning is to try to pinpoint the many standards activities underway, what they are doing, who is supporting them, how they relate to one another, and why they should be of concern to you as transit managers.


Standards activity is a booming business for three reasons: technology, safety, and economics. Let's start with technology. Widespread introduction of microprocessors and other modern technologies is transforming the transit industry, providing opportunities to significantly improve performance and reduce costs.  Standards are needed to prevent technology from spawning a plethora of proprietary and incompatible solutions. The impact of technology on standards has received a major impetus from the multi-billion dollar Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) initiative, part of which has included development of a National ITS Architecture and support for standards to permit interoperability of ITS equipment on a nationwide basis. This standards effort is built around the National Transportation Communication for ITS Protocol (NTCIP).  While NTCIP is primarily intended for automobiles, buses will also operate on the computerized highways of the future. Therefore, the USDOT Joint Program Office for ITS has established the Transit Communications Interface Profiles (TCIP) development effort to address the transit component of ITS standards. And, the inevitable management and control interfaces which buses share with rail and other modes make all transit a party to the TCIP effort. As a result, this major ITS initiative, combined with the natural trend towards increased use of microprocessors in the transit industry, is creating overwhelming pressure for standards to permit systems to talk to one another and exchange data.


Another major force for standards, which has been of particular relevance to commuter rail transit, has been safety.  In 1984 the Association of American Railroads ceased maintaining safety standards for passenger railcars.  Following a spate of commuter rail accidents in the 90's, Congress directed the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to take action.  In response to FRA's Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the American Public Transit Association formed (with FRA’s blessing and support) the Passenger Rail Equipment Safety Standards (PRESS) Task Force to promulgate commuter rail passenger car safety standards that would compliment and supplement FRA regulations, and wherever possible, negate the need for regulations.


The final reason for standards is to save money.  Standards are the necessary foundation for standardization, which in turn saves money spent to purchase, operate, and maintain equipment, purchase and inventory spare parts, and train personnel.  This has been a key reason for the Transit Cooperative Research Program's sponsorship of rail vehicle interface standards. It is estimated that railcar standards being drafted under this project can save a third of a billion dollars annually.  By way of comparison, total Federal operating assistance to the entire transit industry (bus and rail) in Fiscal 1996 was $417 million. Transit currently faces a major cost squeeze and there is simply no other readily identifiable way to save this kind of money.


In trying to make sense of ongoing standards efforts in the transit industry, it is useful to categorize them into those activities accredited by the International Organization for Standardization  (ISO) and/or the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), and those industry or government sponsored efforts operating outside of the ISO/ANSI system.  ANSI is the central body in the United States responsible for voluntary standards activities.  ANSI accreditation assures that principles of openness, due process and balance have been followed and that a consensus of those directly and materially affected by the standard has been achieved. ANSI also serves as the U.S. member  of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), an international organization founded in 1946 by 25 national standards organizations to promote international cooperation in standards. Also worth noting is the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) , an organization which performs the function of the ISO in the area of electrical standards. It is interesting to note that the IEC actually predates the ISO, having been founded in 1906.  A special committee of ANSI, the United States National Committee or USNC, serves as the U.S. member of the IEC.


Standards, unlike many other technical papers and reports, are quasi-legal documents. Standards are used as evidence, either to substantiate or refute points, in courts of law. Standards also become legal documents if adopted by various governments or regulatory agencies. When this happens, the content and decisions in a standard carry more weight, and the process by which they are developed falls under much more scrutiny, making ANSI accreditation especially valuable.


While the ANSI/ISO system is widely used, there are also a number of other organizations involved in transit standards activities. Some of these are industry groups, which do not offer open membership to all interested parties.  Others have been formed by public agency efforts such as the Federal Railroad Administration.


ANSI accreditation is thus one important way to classify the many transit standards activities now underway. The other critical means of classifying transit standards is by whether they are involved in the Intelligent Transportation Systems program that was mentioned earlier.  National ITS standards are essential to achieving the interoperability and compatibility needed to enable ITS equipment to function consistently and reliably anywhere in the United States.  A National ITS Architecture has been developed to serve as a master blueprint defining basic ITS interfaces. Standards needed to support this architecture are being developed with funding from the USDOT.  NTCIP is the backbone of this standards effort, intended to provide a standard protocol for the interchange of computer based information throughout the transportation industry. The NTCIP protocol was originally conceived to be an extension of the NEMA TS-2 Controller Standard governing traffic controller communications. As the project developed it enlarged to cover the more complex issues of systems interoperability and communications standards. A Joint NTCIP Committee was formed composed of members from the National Electric Manufacturers Association (NEMA), the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). This group serves as a steering committee overseeing all NTCIP standards development efforts.


Since buses use the highway system, it soon became evident that there would need to be a transit component of NTCIP. Transit Communication Interface Profiles (TCIP) represents this transit component.  It augments the NTCIP with transit-related information and message formats to facilitate the exchange of information among traffic management centers, transit vehicles and other transit facilities. The Institute of Transportation Engineers leads the TCIP program  with funding from the USDOT.


As can be seen, the national ITS effort has generated a great deal of standards effort, initially oriented to automobiles and highways, but gradually moving inexorably into the area of buses and ultimately even rail transit. Understanding the relationship of transit standards activities to overall ITS strategies is thus critical to getting the big picture.


The following sections identify the various standards activities involving transit today.  First, international standards activities are discussed. Next ANSI accredited activities are summarized. Finally, industry and government sponsored activities outside of the ANSI orbit are identified. In each case the relationship, if any, to the ITS program is highlighted. Within each section, organizations are in alphabetical order.


International, ISO/IEC Transit Standards Committees


There are two ISO/IEC committees that are directly involved in transit standards.


IEC TC9 - Electric Traction Equipment. IEC TC9 is an IEC technical committee that prepares international standards for electric train equipment. Among its activities has been development of IEC 61375-1 1999, Electric railways equipment - Train bus, which defines a communications protocol for a train communications network (TCN).  It has been adopted as one of the two complementary protocols accepted by IEEE Std 1473-1999 for use on transit vehicles and trains.


ISO TC 204 - Transportation Information and Control Systems.  ISO TC 204 was formed within the ISO to handle Intelligent Transportation Systems. Its Working Group 8 has particular responsibility for Public Transport and Emergency, and is of the most importance to the transit industry. The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has been designated as the international secretariat for the ISO 204 committee. The secretariat is responsible for providing technical and administrative services for the committee. ITS America, an industry group for intelligent transportation systems, serves as the US Technical Advisory Group for ISO 204.


ANSI Accredited Standards Development Organizations


There are at least five ANSI accredited standards development organizations actively involved in transit standards activities.


ASCE - American Society of Civil Engineers.  The ASCE is a professional society formed to advance professional knowledge and improve the practice of civil engineering, which develops standards under its Codes and Standards Activities Committee. The key ASCE transit standards activity is led by the Automated People Mover Standards Committee (APMS).  This committee, formed in 1992, is establishing minimum safety and performance requirements for automated people movers. It has published two standards, ASCE 21-96 governing train control, communications, safety, reliability and environmental concerns and ASCE 21-98 covering vehicle, propulsion and braking systems.


ASME - American Society of Mechanical Engineers.   The ASME is a worldwide educational and technical society of mechanical engineers, which develops mechanical engineering standards through its Council on Codes and Standards. The Rail Transit Vehicle Committee (RTVC) is a standards committee of the ASME formed to develop mechanical and structural standards for rail transit vehicles, including light rail and rapid rail, but excluding those under the jurisdiction of the Federal Railroad Administration. This committee was formed through the efforts of the Transit Cooperative Research Program and receives support from that effort. It is presently developing new structural and crashworthiness standards for light railcars.


ASTM - American Society of Testing and Materials.  The ASTM is developing ITS standards in the area of dedicated short-range communications physical and data links.


IEEE - Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.  The IEEE is the world's largest technical professional society serving the computing, electrical engineering and electronics professions and through the IEEE Standards Association a developer of standards in these areas. IEEE activities in transit standards are in two major areas.


The Rail Transit Vehicle Interface Standards Committee  (RTVISC) is a committee of the IEEE formed to serve as the sponsor and balloting group for all rail transit vehicle interface standards developed by the IEEE.  RTVISC efforts are supported by funding through the Transit Cooperative Research Program.  There are presently 13 Working Groups engaged in standards development in the RTVISC. The committee has published five standards covering communications protocols, communications based signaling, a railcar event recorder, propulsion, braking and train control, and passenger information systems. The committee has become involved in ITS through its commitment to develop TCIP standards for rail.


The other major IEEE involvement is through its ITS Standards Coordinating Committee (SCC 32) which coordinates all ITS activities in the IEEE.  In addition to rail TCIP standards, these include the ITS Data Dictionary and Message Set Template, Dedicated Short Range Communication Message Set, and Incident Management Message Set. To date, SCC32 has published standards covering message sets for vehicle/roadside communications, data dictionaries for ITS, and a guide for microwave communication system development.


SAE - Society of Automotive Engineers.  In addition to its role as secretariat of ISO TC 204, the SAE is very active in ITS where its focus is on in-vehicle and traveler information. The SAE communications protocols used for buses (SAE J-1587 and SAE J-1708) are well known, and new standards activity is now underway in this area.


Government Organizations Involved in Transit Standards Development


The following are government sponsored or related groups involved in standardization.


FRA - Federal Railroad Administration. The FRA is a U.S. Federal government agency which regulates mainline railroads. It is working with APTA on the PRESS activities to develop commuter rail safety standards. In addition, FRA has convened the Rail Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC) to provide consensus recommendations for proposed and final FRA regulatory actions. The FRA is not bound to follow RSAC recommendations but typically does. RSAC has representatives from the rail carriers, labor, and the Railway Progress Institute, representing suppliers.  A major effort involves Positive Train Control, a program to develop communications based signaling systems for mainline railroads.  RSAC has formed a special PTC Working Group that has a Standards Task Force charged to recommend potential revisions to federal regulations (49 CFR Part 236) to address processor based technology and communications based operating architectures. The Task Force is now considering rules for safety verification of processor based systems.


Another FRA activity is Highway-Rail Intersection (HRI) Standards.  In 1994, the Federal Highway Administration was asked to include highway-rail intersections as part of the ITS program. These intersections represent an interface between railroad signaling and highway traffic signal and traffic management, and need to be included in the ITS architecture and standards efforts. Efforts in this area led by the FRA are now underway.


FTA - Federal Transit Administration.  FTA is becoming increasingly involved in standards efforts. This includes participation in a US/France Rail Standards Workshop held at the French Embassy last July.  FTA works closely with the Joint Program Office to help identify,  encourage and implement standards activities undertaken by the transportation industry that are related to Intelligent Transportation Systems, including the TCIP standards effort.  In addition, through the TCRP program, FTA is supporting ongoing standards activities in the bus and rail areas.


JPO -  U.S.  Department of Transportation  Joint Program Office for ITS .  The U.S. Department of  Transportation has formed a Joint Program Office for ITS to coordinate departmental and agency activities in ITS. A key standards activity has been the establishment of the Transit Communications Interface Profiles (TCIP) development effort to address the transit component of ITS standards.


Private Organizations Involved in Transit Standards Development


The following are industry groups, not-for-profit organizations or non ANSI accredited engineering societies involved in standardization.


AASHTO - American Association of State Highway and Transportation  Officials.   AASHTO is comprised of principal executive and engineering officers of the various state highway and transportation agencies and the USDOT. Its main purpose is to develop and improve methods of design, construction, operation and maintenance of highways.  AASHTO serves on the Joint NTCIP Committee, which serves as a steering committee overseeing all NTCIP standards development efforts.


APTA - American Public Transit Association.  As everyone here knows, APTA is an organization whose mission is to serve and represent the transit industry.  APTA operates PRESS, a Task Force to develop Passenger Rail Equipment Safety Standards for commuter rail passenger cars. In addition, APTA is developing technical specification guidelines for transit buses with the support of the Transit Cooperative Research Program.  Through its participation in TCRP, APTA is also involved in the TCRP project developing electrical and mechanical railcar standards.


AREMA - American Railway Engineering and Maintenance Association.   A professional organization of railway officers, engineers and supervisors engaged in design, construction and maintenance of railroad facilities, AREMA publishes a manual or railway engineering and various recommended practices and standards related to freight operations. AREMA was formed by the merger of several groups, most notably the American Railway Engineering Association (AREA).  AREA, and now AREMA, issues and supports track and fixed way standards, both for mainline railroads and rail transit systems


EIA - Electrical  Industry Association.  EIA is an industry group which develops electrical standards.  It maintains EIA 709.1-1998, Control Network Protocol Specification, one of the two complementary protocols adopted by IEEE Std 1473-1999 for use on passenger rail vehicles and trains.


ITE - Institute of Transportation Engineers.   ITE is an international scientific and educational association concerned with transportation and traffic engineering which is leading the Transit Communication Interface Profiles (TCIP) effort, with the support of a large group of technical advisors and members of the transit community. TCIP is the transit component of the NTCIP effort.  It augments the NTCIP with transit-related information and message formats to facilitate the exchange of information among traffic management centers, transit vehicles and other transit facilities. Message sets have been developed in a number of distinct business areas. During the course of the effort it was determined that message sets would also be required for rail systems, which interface with TCIP in a number of areas. The IEEE Rail Transit Vehicle Interface Standards Committee was charged with the responsibility for this effort, and formed a Working Group 9 for this purpose. In addition to the above, ITE also serves on the Joint NTCIP Committee which serves as a steering committee overseeing all NTCIP standards development efforts. ITE is also supporting a Transit Signal Priority Working Group concerned with the interfaces involved with providing signal priority to buses and light rail vehicles.


ITS America.  ITS America is an industry group for intelligent transportation systems.  ITS America has a Standards and Protocols Committee. It also serves as the U.S. Technical Advisory Group for the ISO TC 204 Committee.


LonMark - LonMark Interoperability Association.  LonMark is an industry association  formed to assist and quickly establish interoperable systems using the Echelon developed LonWorks communication protocol (EAI 709.3-1998). This protocol has been adopted as one of the two complementary protocols accepted by IEEE Std 1473-1999 for use on transit vehicles and trains. LonMark has recently formed a Transportation Group to facilitate standardization and interoperability of LonWorks based systems in the transportation industry. Its initial emphasis will on rail transit equipment.


OMG - Object Management Group.  OMG is an industry organization formed in 1989 whose mission is to create an interoperable world for exchange of information between microprocessor computers through development of a Common Object Request Object Architecture (CORBA).  OMG serves somewhat as an industry alternative to the de facto Microsoft standards (DCOM).  OMG has a Transportation Domain Task Force and has recently formed a Transit Domain Group to develop transit application standards compatible with the overall OMG architecture. NTCIP is using CORBA for its communications standard.


NEMA- National Electric Manufacturers Association.   NEMA is an industry association of electrical equipment manufacturers. The NTCIP protocol was originally conceived to be an extension  of NEMA's  TS-2 Controller Standard governing traffic controller communications. As the NTCIP project developed it enlarged to cover the more complex issues of systems interoperability and communications standards. NEMA now serves on the Joint NTCIP Committee which serves as a steering committee overseeing all NTCIP standards development efforts.


TRB - Transportation Research Board.  TRB is a national clearinghouse for transportation research. A division of the National Academy of Sciences National Research Council, it is a private organization that encourages and correlates research efforts of educational institutions, governmental agencies, and industry.  TRB jointly administers the Transportation Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) with the Transit Development Corporation, a nonprofit educational and research arm of the American Public Transit Association and  the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), the project sponsor.  TCRP Project G-4, Developing Standards for System and Subsystem Interfaces in Electric Rail Passenger Vehicles has supported the formation of standards committees in the IEEE and ASME to develop rail transit vehicle standards.  More recently, TCRP has also become involved in supporting APTA in the development of technical specification guidelines for buses.


TSC - Transit Standards Consortium.  TSC is a newly formed private organization open to all organizations and individuals interested in transit standards.  TSC seeks to facilitate standards development by identifying and providing resources, while facilitating a dialogue for an integrated and coordinated national agenda for transit standards. Consideration is being given to making TSC a Federal Advisory Committee (FAC) pursuant to the Federal Advisory Committee Acts of 1972 and 1996.




It is clear there is a lot going on in the area of transit standards.  By now you’ve probably figured out that the title of this talk refers to the complex web which emerges when one attempts to construct an organizational flow chart of these activities. Figure 1 summarizes the relationships discussed in this paper. For those of you with the patience, it is a useful way to trace the complex interrelationships discussed in this paper, and it illustrates the major classifications in terms of ANSI accreditation and ITS involvement. Perhaps of more use will be the list of personal contacts in each of the standards areas provided as Table 1. The persons in this table should be able to tell you more about any standards area in which you are interested. Finally, we've provided an appendix to this paper which summarizes some key recently enacted Federal laws and OMB directives which bear on standards in the United States.  While the field is far to complex to completely cover in this brief presentation, we have hopefully whetted your appetite and provided some roadmaps to the bewildering world of transit standards.





Helpful information and/or review comments were provided by a number of colleagues including Robert Gottschalk, Chair of IEEE SCC32, Bill Kronenberger, Senior Project Manager of Houston Metro, Walter Kulyk, FTA Director of Mobility Innovation,  Eva Lerner-Lam, President of the Palisades Consulting Group,  Bill Petit, Vice President of Technology  of Safetran Systems, Dave Phelps,  Manager of Rail Programs at APTA, and Lou Sanders, Director of Research Programs at APTA. It goes without saying that, while I am very grateful for their help in improving the accuracy of this presentation, the fault for any remaining inaccuracies remains my own. 

Table 1 - Some Standards Contacts


ANSI/ISO/IEC/USNC                        Charles Zegers                    c.zegers@ansi.com

IEC TC9                                 George Pristach                  pristach@pbworld.com

ISO TC 204                                            Kristi Hansen                  kristi@sae.org


ISO TC204 WG8                                   Michael Sheehan                 sheehanm@volpe.dot.gov


IEEE RTVISC                                        Tom McGean                 t.j.mcgean@ieee.org

IEEE SCC32                                           Bob Gottschalk                             r.l.gottschalk@ieee.org

ASME RTVC                                        Stan Canjea                    cbopsxc@njtransit.state.nj.us

ASCE APMS                                        Tom McGean                 t.j.mcgean@ieee.org

SAE VAN/1708                                     Bill Kronenberger                bjkronen@aol.com

USDOT Joint Program Office                Michael Schagrin                                mike.schagrin@fhwa.dot.gov

FRA RSAC                                            Grady Cothen                   grady.cothen@fra.dot.gov

FRA HRI                                                Tom Woll                       tom.woll@fra.dot.gov

FTA - ITS Standards                              Brian Cronin                    brian.cronin@fta.dot.gov                          

FTA - Rail Standards                              Venkat Pindiprolu                venkat.pindiprolu@fta.dot.gov

TRB TCRP                                             Chris Jenks                      cjenks@nas.edu

ITS America                                          Harriet Smith                      rhfsmith@mindspring.com

ITE                                                          James Cheeks                   jcheeks@vax.ite.org

TCIP                                                       Eva Lerner-Lam                            elernerlam@palisadesgroup.com

Transit Signal Priority                   Broady Cash                       bcash@arinc8

APTA PRESS                                       Tom Peacock                 tpeacock@apta.com

APTA TCRP                                         Lou Sanders                  lsanders@apta.com

APTA Bus                                            Jerry Trotter                    jtrotter@apta.com

AAR                                                       Howard Moody                   moody@aar.org                                            

LonMark Transp. Group                     Gene Sansone                 gesansone@aol.com

OMG Transit Domain                  John Lewis                      jflewis@switch.com

NEMA                                                   Daniel McCreery                              dan.mccreery@nema.org

TSC                                                        Eva Lerner-Lam                            elernerlam@palisadesgroup.com



Appendix - Key Federal Laws Related to Standards


The National Technology Transfer and Enhancement Act (P.L. 104-113) passed by Congress and signed into law in March of 1996 greatly enhanced the importance of consensus standards in the legal and regulatory structure of the United States. Following the bills passage, "…all Federal agencies and departments shall use technical standards that are developed or adopted by voluntary consensus standards bodies, using such technical standards as a means to carry out policy objectives or activities."  In addition, federal agencies are required to consult with and, if possible, participate with voluntary, private sector consensus standards organizations in developing technical standards. This act gives the force of law to prior Office of Management and Budget (OMB) directives encouraging government agencies to adopt private, voluntary standards and participate in their development.  OMB Circular A-119 "Federal Participation in the Development and Use of Voluntary Consensus Standards and in Conformity Assessment Activities" has been revised to reflect the new law. It requires agencies to use existing voluntary consensus standards in their regulatory activities unless inconsistent with applicable law or otherwise impractical. A key provision of Circular A-119 states that "A voluntary consensus standards body observes principles such as openness, balance of interest and due process" and operates by consensus.


Significant new legal protection offered standards volunteers under the recently passed Volunteer Protection Act of 1997 [19]. This new law exempts volunteers of nonprofit corporations (such as engineering societies) from civil liability for harm caused by an act or omission of the volunteer on behalf of the organization. To obtain this exemption, the volunteer must have been acting within the scope of his or her responsibilities and must have been properly licensed or otherwise authorized for the activity. In addition, the harm must not have been caused by willful or criminal misconduct, gross negligence, reckless misconduct or a conscious, flagrant indifference to the rights or safety of the individual harmed.  This new law provides significant added protection to professionals involved in standards activities.