Congress approves $1.1 trillion spending bill for transportation

Congress passed a $1.1 trillion spending bill that included funding for Amtrak, rail and transit programs and $500 million for the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program. The bill allows state departments of transportation and transit agencies access to this year’s funding increases that Congress had approved and set aside money for in the 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. That means about $400 million is available for transit programs and $1 billion is available for highway programs.
The bill also increases funding for the Federal Railroad Administration by $173 million to $1.85 billion. The bill also includes $98 million in rail grants to support positive train control implementation, make railroad infrastructure improvements and improve passenger-rail service. An additional $328 million will be given to Amtrak for the Northeast Corridor and $1.17 billion for its national network. The bill also allocates $258 million for rail safety and research programs. The Federal Transit Administration will receive $12.4 billion, $9.7 billion of which will be for transit formula grants from the Highway Trust Fund. The measure provides $2.4 billion for Capital Investment Grants known as “New Starts,” which funds all current Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA) transit projects and provides support for new projects anticipated to receive FFGA awards.
The spending generally presents good opportunities for the railroad industry according to the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association. Not only are current transit projects receiving funding with existing FFGAs, future projects across the nation could receive funding if new FFGAs are signed. Possible funding includes $125 million for the Maryland Purple Line, $100 million for Caltrain electrification, $100 million for Seattle’s Lynnwood Link, $84 million for New York City Transit’s Canarsie power improvements, $50 million for the Santa Ana streetcar program, $49 million for the Dallas Area Rapid Transit’s core capacity project and $10 million for the Minneapolis Southwest light rail transit project.
The legislation also sets aside $408 million for 10 “small start” projects such as streetcar projects in Tempe, Sacramento, Fort Lauderdale, and Seattle. Also in the bill is $150 million for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, and $199 million for positive train control funding for commuter railroads that was authorized under the FAST Act.

Federal Railroad agency grants $25 million for PTC

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has awarded $25 million to projects implementing systems to monitor and control training movements. The systems, known as Positive Train Control (PTC), are designed to increase safety by helping prevent collisions and derailments, enforcing speed restrictions and improving wayside safety.

“Every dollar we invest in implementing Positive Train Control as quickly as possible is money well spent because ultimately it means fewer accidents and fewer fatalities,” said FRA Administrator Sarah E. Feinberg.

Congress mandated PTC implementation on the main lines of Class I railroads and certain other entities providing intercity or commuter rail passenger transportation. The original implementation deadline for PTC was in December, but legislation was passed last year to extend the deadline through 2018.

Eleven projects in six states and the District of Columbia were selected in this round of funding. The American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association in Washington, D.C., will receive $2.5 million to develop a crew initialization back office server system. The system will make a back-office product that delivers PTC available to all short line and regional railroads.The Twin Cities & Western Railroad Company in Minnesota will receive $1.1 million to implement and test PTC systems. The project includes a contract with a back office service and interoperability message software provider, initial activation and licensing fees of hosted back office systems and two PTC equipped locomotives.

The Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority in Texas will receive $3 million to implement Enhanced Automatic Train Control. The system will overlay the existing wayside signal system and enhance onboard, wayside and control office equipment and software to create a functional PTC system in the Austin area.

For details on all the projects awarded, visit www.fra.dot.gov/eLib/Details/L18324.

P3 for Miami Beach light-rail project moving forward

Plans for a light-rail system in South Beach, Fla., that would connect to mainland Miami are moving forward. The project will be a public-private partnership (P3/PPP), and city officials are considering a recommendation to begin negotiations with a private rail firm on the $400 million project.

Three firms bid on the P3/PPP project. Officials are likely to begin negotiations with a French rail firm for the project and then move on to the secondary bidder if those negotiations are not confirmed. Prices would not be negotiated until a design is approved.

All three bidders on the project, which would make up about a third of the link that would connect mainland Miami to the beach, proposed the use of wireless cars that would run every six to seven minutes along Fifth Street, Washington Avenue, 17th Street and Alton Road.

Maryland Purple Line gets $874.6M TIFIA loan

The consortium of private-sector companies that recently won a $5.6 billion contract to build and operate the Maryland Purple Line light-rail project has been awarded an $874.6 million Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan. The funds will be used to help defray the costs of the 16.2 mile project that will connect Montgomery and Prince George’s counties in Maryland. The east-west line will also include 21 stations.

In making the announcement of the loan, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said the new rail line will offer an alternative form of transportation that will allow residents along the line “improved access to jobs, education and medical care and, overall, will help improve the quality of life.”

Federal Transit Administration (FTA) officials also are working with the Maryland Transit Authority to secure an additional $900 million toward the project through the FTA Capital Investment Grant Program. Another $36 million in FTA grant funds will also be appropriated for the project.

Calling the Purple Line a “unique public-private partnership” that allows the state to leverage additional federal funding, FTA Acting Administrator Carolyn Flowers added, “The Purple Line will help residents access one of the state’s largest job centers as well as its flagship state university without having to drive on heavily congested roads.”