August 28, 2018 9:30 AM, EDT

FRA Awards $203 Million for Positive Train Control Installation

New Mexico Rail Runner Express locomotive stands at the depot in Santa Fe, N.M.A New Mexico Rail Runner Express locomotive stands at the depot in Santa Fe, N.M. (Barry Massey/AP)

The Federal Railroad Administration recently awarded more than $200 million to support 28 projects that aim to deploy positive train control systems in 15 states.

Positive train control (PTC) is technology that automatically stops the vehicle before certain accidents occur, such as train-on-train collisions and high-speed derailments.

The agency on Aug. 24 announced the $203 million in awards funding, made possible through the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements program.

“These $200 million in grants will help the railroads continue to implement positive train control, a technology that could help reduce accidents and save lives,” Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said.

Just as trucking fleets are mandated by federal law to have electronic logging devices in cabs, trains are bound by the Rail Safety Improvement Act to ensure that PTC systems are installed before Dec. 31, 2018. The mandate requires the systems on the main lines of Class I railroads and entities providing regularly scheduled intercity or commuter rail passenger transportation over which any toxic hazardous materials are transported.

Ronald Batory


The administration said 15 railroads have installed 100% of the system hardware. Twelve other railroads said they have installed 95% to 99% of the hardware identified in their PTC implementation plans. That’s an improvement from December 2016, when freight railroads had PTC active on just 16% of required tracks while passenger railroads stood at 24%.

FRA Administrator Ronald Batory said, “While we are seeing progress among a majority of railroads, we want to see everyone meet their requirements.”

The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018 designated $250 million for the deployment of PTC systems, $203 million of which was awarded Aug. 24. FRA considered economic vitality as well as innovative approaches to improving safety and expediting project delivery when determining grant winners.

FRA plans to issue a notice of funding opportunity soon for the remaining $46 million.

The companies and transportation agencies awarded grants represent Alaska, California, Florida, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah and Washington.

The largest grant, for up to $29 million, was awarded to the Rio Metro Regional Transit District, which serves central New Mexico. The funding will be used to implement PTC systems on the New Mexico Rail Runner Express, a commuter rail system for people in Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

FRA’s report shows that the number of “at-risk” railroads has dropped to nine from 12.

The New Mexico Rail Runner Express is one of those nine at-risk railroads identified in FRA’s report.

The agency considers any railroad that has less than 90% of its PTC system hardware installed as of June 30 to be at risk. The nine railroads control approximately 665 route miles that are subject to the statutory mandate — approximately 11% of the route miles that must be governed by a PTC system.