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Industry Round-up: Celebrating Rail’s Big Winners, A Close Funding Call, and Managing PTC Assets

Jun 28, 2019
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 All the transit news you can use: 

Funding crisis averted (for now)? 

The transit industry can breathe a sigh of relief as the House of Representatives on June 25 passed a “minibus” appropriations bill without the proposed amendments that would have made significant cuts to transportation infrastructure funding. 

Congress rejected the Woodall amendment to H.R. 3055, which included the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (THUD) Appropriations bill for FY 2020 allocating over $16 billion for public transportation. The amendment, introduced by Representative Rob Woodall (R-Georgia), would have impacted how federal loans were defined, threatening critical infrastructure projects, according to the American Public Transportation Association.  

Woodall, who said his amendment would protect small community transportation projects, proposed to strike down section 193 of the bill, clarifying that Transportation, Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loans repaid with local funds are considered part of the non-Federal share of the project cost. According to APTA, the Woodall amendment would have struck this TIFIA clarification and allowed the Department of Transportation to continue to consider TIFIA loans repaid with local funds “in the context of all Federal funding sources…” 

Crucially, the approved appropriations bill also did not include the amendment proposed by Representative Scott Perry (R-Pennsylvania) which would have cut public transit funding significantly. Prior to the vote on the appropriations bill, APTA vigorously opposed the Perry amendment, which, if passed, would have led to an estimated 12% FY 2020 funding cut for every public transit agency. Congressman Perry chose not to offer his amendment.  

In applauding the passage of the appropriations bill without the potentially damaging amendments, APTA reiterated its call “to invest more – not less” in public infrastructure and urged President Trump and the Senate “to quickly move this legislation forward to ensure continued and uninterrupted support for our public infrastructure and passenger rail infrastructure.” 

The House Appropriations bill also included several pro-transit amendments. Mass Transit magazine details them here

No to China rolling stock 

Meanwhile, an amendment has been introduced in the Senate to the annual defense authorization bill incorporating a proposed ban on US transit agencies from using federal funds to purchase rolling stock from Chinese-owned manufacturers.  

Section 6015 of Amendment 764 is the text of the Transit Infrastructure Vehicle Security Act (S.846) seeking such a ban on national security grounds. The “amendment in the nature of a substitute” for the entire bill was introduced on June 19 by Republican Senator James Inhofe (Oklahoma), chairman of the Armed Services Committee.   

The four authors of S.846, Senators John Cornyn (R-Texas), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), welcomed the amendment’s inclusion in the defense authorization bill (which has passed every year since 1961).  

Section 896 of H. R. 2500, the House version of the defense authorization bill, has language practically identical to the Senate amendment, except that it added the word “rail” in front of “rolling stock,” meaning the ban only applies to rail, and not to buses.  

Eno Transportation Weekly has more about the proposed amendment here

VTA on a roll 

Still on funding, Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) may become the first transit agency to participate in a new federal funding pilot program aimed at fast-tracking new transit capital projects.  

At the 2019 APTA Rail Conference in Toronto this past week, acting FTA Administrator K. Jane Williams announced the FTA was holding discussions with VTA on the prospect of the agency’s BART Silicon Valley Phase II Project participating in the Pilot Program for Expedited Project Delivery.  

The program is looking to speed up transit projects by working with enterprising agencies who can deliver projects faster using innovative financing strategies. Authorized under the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, the program requires grant recipients to utilize public-private partnerships and be operated and maintained by employees of an existing public transportation provider. It limits federal funding to a maximum of 25% of the project cost. 

VTA’s project is utilizing single bore technology to construct an underground subway through downtown San Jose. The single-bore tunnel, a five-mile extension of the BART line, would be the first of its kind in North America.  

This isn’t the first time VTA has been innovative with its technology programs. At the Trapeze ThinkTransit Conference this past April, VTA was named the winner of this year’s ThinkTransit Award of Excellence for Advancement for successfully rolling out a paratransit self-service portal that has transformed its demand response operation.   

All systems go for these agencies’ funding 

The week saw some great news for agencies as their funding requests got the green light: 

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) and Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) are getting around $1 billion more for their next five-year Capital Investment Plan (CIP), which will be used mainly to increase the safety and resiliency of Massachusetts’ transportation system.  

The $18.3 billion CIP for FY2020-2024 approved on June 17 included $1.58 billion for improvements to the Red and Orange Lines; $875 million for additional capital investments in the Red Line; $1.36 billion for the Green Line Extension Project; and $1 billion for the South Coast Rail Project in Southeastern Massachusetts. Capital investments in transportation have increased steadily in recent years, from $15.1 billion in the FY2017-2019 transportation plan to $17.3 billion in the FY2019-2021 plan to the newly approved $18.3 billion for the next five years. 

Bay Area Rapid Transit’s Transbay Corridor Core Capacity Project is receiving $300 million from the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Grants (CIG) program. The project aims to boost the capacity of the heavy rail system between Oakland and downtown San Francisco. The FTA also agreed to advance the project into the engineering phase. When completed, the Transbay project will enable BART to operate 30 ten-car trains in each direction every hour. Currently, BART operates 23 trains in each direction per hour through the Transbay Tube during peak hours. 

In Minnesota, Metro Transit’s Orange Line Bus Rapid Transit project secured a $74.1 million grant from the FTA, the final piece of funding to complete the $150.7-million project which will run for 17 miles along the region’s busiest express bus corridor, linking several municipalities including downtown Minneapolis with south Minneapolis and the cities of Richfield, Bloomington, and Burnsville. 

Commuter rail ridership up 

APTA’s first-quarter ridership report showed a 2.1% increase in commuter rail ridership, with 13 out of 31 systems posting ridership gains. In 2018, commuter rail ridership increased by 0.4% from 2017.  

Overall ridership still declined for the first quarter of 2019, down 1.7% from the same period last year.  

Congratulations to the 2019 Rail Safety & Security Excellence Awards winners 

At the APTA 2019 Rail Safety & Security Excellence Awards handed out during the APTA 2019 Rail Conference in Toronto this week, MTA Long Island Railroad (LIRR), Miami Dade County Department of Transportation and Public Works, and Houston Metro bagged the 2019 Gold Awards for Safety while Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART), Sound Transit, and Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) each took home a 2019 Gold Award for Security.  

LIRR won in the commuter/inter-city rail category for partnering with the MTA police department to create a Right-of-Way Task Force to respond quickly to safety complaints. Miami Dade County’s transportation department was honored in the heavy rail category for implementing a successful new safety program that has decreased the number of employee injuries. Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County (Houston Metro) was the winner in the light rail/streetcar category for its SmartSync traffic/rail signaling project that allows rail cars to move smoothly through Houston’s Central Business District corridor while giving motorists and other traffic time to cross at intersections. 

DART was cited in the light rail/streetcar category for undertaking a raft of initiatives to enhance security throughout its system. Sound Transit got the nod in the commuter/intercity rail category for its inspiring adoption of the national Stop the Bleed campaign, distributing nearly 300 Stop the Bleed kits throughout its system in preparation for emergencies. WMATA was the winner for heavy rail for deploying a robust security plan throughout its 1,500 square mile transit zone encompassing three police jurisdictions (District of Columbia, State of Maryland, and Commonwealth of Virginia).  

Read more about the 2019 Rail Safety & Security Excellence Awards winners here

How to manage safety-critical PTC assets? 

And speaking of rail safety, how do agencies go about managing their safety-critical Positive Train Control (PTC) assets? Trapeze Industry Solutions Manager Brett Koenig identifies three spatial tools for helping maintain wayside PTC assets – a linear reference system (LRS), geographic information system (GIS) software, and mobile apps with Global Positioning System (GPS).  

Agencies should look for these three features when considering an asset management system, Brett advises, because they empower an agency’s workforce with the information and location precision they need to manage complex, geospatial assets. 

Learn how to leverage these spatial tools here

Joyce Fernandez is a contract Content Marketing Writer for Trapeze Group. She has written content for B2B and B2C companies in the financial services, technology, and design fields in Canada, UK and Asia. She studied journalism under the Erasmus Mundus Journalism Master program, at Aarhus University (Denmark) and City, University of London (UK), and Digital Experience Innovation at the University of Waterloo.
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