FRA Announces $204M in PTC Grants as New Reporting Shows Progress Towards Meeting Deadline

FRA Announces $204M in PTC Grants as New Reporting Shows Progress Towards Meeting Deadline

August 24, 2018  | Jeff Davis and Alexander Laska

August 24, 2018

This week, the Federal Railroad Administration announced the recipients of $203.7 million in fiscal year 2018 grants to railroads for the installation of positive train control (PTC) technology ahead of a looming December 31 deadline. At the same time, FRA released the PTC implementation progress reports of all railroads as of June 30, which showed most railroads making significant progress.

Overall, the FRA’s handy infographic still shows that the nation’s freight railroads are still significantly ahead of the passenger railroads in installing PTC equipment and training employees:

All told, 15 of the 40 railroads with PTC obligations have now installed 100 percent of the necessary hardware, and 12 more have installed between 95 and 99 percent. Fourteen have initiated sufficient revenue service demonstration (RSD) or met substitute criteria, and twenty-five of the 26 that must acquire additional spectrum for the PTC have done so (the only that has not is Rio Metro in New Mexico).

With this quarter’s update, the number of railroads at risk of not qualifying for an alternative schedule (a deadline extension from Dec. 31, 2018 to as late as Dec. 31, 2020) to fully implement PTC has dropped from 12 to nine.

The nine railroads still at risk according to FRA are New Mexico Rail Runner Express (Rio Metro), Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Austin, TX), New Jersey Transit, Altamont Corridor Express, Maryland Area Regional Commuter, Trinity Railway Express (Dallas – Fort Worth, TX), South Florida Regional Transportation Authority, Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board (Caltrain) and Central Florida Rail Corridor (SunRail).

FRA called this quarter’s progress a “significant improvement” from December 2016, at which time PTC hardware installation was at just 16 percent of required tracks for freight railroads and 24 percent for passenger railroads.

Of the $203.7 million, 78 percent ($159.3 million) went directly to commuter railroad operating agencies, and the remainder went to small freight railroads (though some of that money is for interoperability with passenger railroads that in some instances may share track with them).

The two biggest grants went to at-risk railroads: Caltrain ($30.0 million) and Rio Metro ($29.4 million). These were the two commuter railroads singled out by FRA Administrator Ron Batory in a May 16 hearing as having informed FRA that “they did not have money to fulfill obligations for PTC.”

In terms of ridership, Caltrain dwarfs Rio Metro (with almost 20 times the annual ridership). If you simply divide Rio Metro’s 2016 annual unlinked passenger trips (886,386) by 365, that gives you 2,428 average daily riders. Assume a lot more passengers on weekdays than weekends and round up to 3,000 average weekday riders. Divide that into $29.36 million in PTC grant money and it appears that the federal government is paying $9,786 per daily Rio Metro trip to implement PTC on their system. APTA estimates that you should multiply unlinked passenger trips by 45 percent to get the number of riders (since most people use commuter rail to, ya know, commute one way in the morning and the other way in the evening), so that then translates into a federal PTC grant for Rio Metro of $21,748 per regular passenger.

However, Rio Metro is a twofer – upgrading that section of track not only benefits Rio Metro, but it also benefits Amtrak’s Southwest Chief, which uses some of the same track and which may shut down on December 31 if the PTC along the host railroad’s tracks is not installed by then. And the U.S. Senate is clearly in the business of keeping the Southwest Chief going, having adopted a Moran (R-KS) amendment to the fiscal 2019 transportation appropriations bill on July 31 that sets aside $50 million of Amtrak’s National Network appropriation for the non-federal share of PTC upgrades on a route that was not precisely defined but which sounds a lot like the Chief.

The money for the grants announced today came from the fiscal year 2018 transportation appropriations act, which appropriated $592.5 million for the CRISI grant program, of which $250 million was set aside for PTC implementation grants. Eagle-eyed observers may note that the grants announced today only give out $203.7 million of that total. It seems likely that FRA did not get enough eligible grant applications by their July 2 deadline set from the first funding notice, so today’s announcement also says “FRA expects in the coming days to issue a second NOFO soliciting applications for PTC systems deployment projects based on the balance of the $250 million that remained after today’s awards were announced. Applications for the $46,301,702 under this second solicitation will be due 30 days after the NOFO is published in the Federal Register.”

The full list of grant recipients and amounts is below, and the full FRA list that includes more specifics for each grant is here.

FY 2018 Positive Train Control Grants from the CRISI Program, Round 1
State Recipient Organization Location of PTC Upgrades Grant Amount
AK Alaska Railroad Corp. Seward to Fairbanks $10,376,704
CA Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) Sonoma County Airport to Windsor, CA $5,000,000
CA Southern California Regional (Metrolink) Southern California $9,944,000
CA California DOT (Caltrans) Oakland to North San Luis Obispo $11,340,000
CA Peninsula Corrdor Joint Powers Board (Caltrain) San Fransicsco to Southern San Jose $18,693,386
FL Florida Department of Transportation DeLand to Poinciana $14,914,238
IA Iowa Northern Railway Company Between Cedar Falls and Waterloo, IA $1,983,082
IA Iowa Interstate Railroad Blue Island to Bureau $1,767,665
IL Northeast Illinois Regional RR (Metra) Chicago to Joliet and Manhattan $22,983,308
IL Chicago Rail Link Chicago area $1,640,925
IL Belt Railway Company of Chicago Cook County $8,600,000
IN Chicago South Shore & South Bend RR Chicago, IL to South Bend, IN $720,000
IN Northern Indiana Commuter Trans. District Chicago to South Bend $8,081,222
MA Springfield Terminal Railway/Pan Am Various locations in MA and CT $2,991,825
MA Massachusetts Bay Transp. Authority (MBTA) Greater Boston metro area $20,000,000
MD Maryland Transit Administration/MARC DC to Martinsburg, WV; Brunswick and Frederick $2,080,000
NE Nebraska Centrail Railroad Company Between Grand Island and Columbus $527,596
NM Rio Metro Regional Transit District Between Belem and Santa Fe $29,359,208
NY New York & Atlantic Railway Nassau & Suffolk Counties, Brooklyn, Queens $1,011,118
NY Middletown & New Jersey Railroad Orange County, NY $1,200,000
PA North Shore Railroad Central Pennsylvania $4,416,000
PA Allegheny Valley Railroad Greater Pittsburgh area $1,830,926
PA Allegheny Valley Railroad Greater Pittsburgh area $302,444
TX Denton County Transportation Auth. Denton County, TX $4,000,000
TX Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) Dallas-Ft Worth urban area $9,516,358
TX Capital Metro Austin, Cedar Lark, Leander and surrounding $5,650,000
UT Utah Transit Authority Salt Lake City to Provo $2,781,775
WA Puget Sound and Pacific Railroad Various locations $1,986,518
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