February 22, 2010,Public Transportation Safety Program Act of 2010 introduced in House and Senate
Both the House and Senate took up consideration of legislation on February 22, 2010, to place safety oversight of local passenger rail transit systems under federal jurisdiction. The measures pending before Congress, H.R. 4643 and S. 3015, are based on a proposal submitted by FTA on December 9, 2009. Currently, each transit system in the U.S. is subject to local safety oversight, with wide variation across the country in the legal authority and scope of enforcement vested in each governing body. The legislation sets out three broad goals: First, it would require the Secretary of Transportation to establish and enforce minimum federal safety standards for rail transit systems not regulated by Federal Railroad Administration. The legislation also provides the Secretary the option to establish a safety program for public transportation bus systems. Second, the Secretary would establish a program under which a State would be eligible for federal transit financial assistance to carry out a federally-approved public transportation safety program. A state would not be preempted from establishing a more stringent safety standard if the standard meets certain criteria, and the Department of Transportation would enforce the federal safety standards if a State were to elect not to participate in the safety program. Third, the program would ensure that a State agency overseeing transit systems would be fully financially independent from the transit systems it oversees.
A copy of the House Bill as introduced is available here.
A copy of the Senate Bill as introduced is available here.
February 3, 2010,FTA announces FY2011 Funding Recommendations for New Starts and Small Starts recipients
unding transit projects under appropriations for the next fiscal year. FTA has recommended a total of $1.560 billion for allocation to existing or proposed New Starts full funding grant agreements. A total of $199.6 million is recommended for allocation to proposed Small Starts projects. An additional $44.6 million in unallocated funding is proposed for other New or Small Starts eligible purposes. The budget proposal also includes a 1.0 percent set-aside for management and oversight in the amount of $18.2 million.
These programs are part of the Major Capital Investment Grant Program provisions of 49 USC 5309, most recently reauthorized in August 2005 by the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEALU). New Starts projects are those whose sponsors are requesting $75 million or more in New Starts funds, or anticipating a total capital cost of $250 million or more (49 USC 5309(d)). Small Starts projects are those whose sponsors are requesting less than $75 million in Small Starts funds and anticipating a total capital cost of less than $250 million (49 USC 5309(e)). FTA awards grants under the New Starts and Small Starts program through a competitive application process.
A copy of FTA’s FY2011 Funding Recommendations is available here.
February 1, 2010,Obama Administration Announces FY2011 Transportation Budget Proposal
The Obama Administration released its transportation budget for fiscal year 2011 on February 1, 2010, calling for $79 billion in transportation funding, an increase of 2 percent over the FY2010 budget. The proposal’s stated priorities are to improve transportation safety, invest for the future and to promote livable communities. Highlights of the proposal include $4 billion to create a national infrastructure bank, the National Infrastructure Innovation and Finance Fund, to finance major transportation projects, an additional $1 billion for the development of high-speed rail, more than $500 million to help state and local governments make more sustainable transportation investments as part of the administration's multi-agency Sustainable Communities Partnership, and $30 million for the Federal Transit Administration to strengthen safety oversight and hire additional staff for that purpose. The proposal does not include measures to address the Highway Trust Fund, which is expected to end FY2010 with a shortage of $1 billion, or to provide funding for the implementation of positive train control technology as mandated by the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008.
A copy of DOT’s proposed FY2011 Budget is available here.
January 28, 2010,Obama Administration Announces Funding for High Speed Rail Proposals
President Obama and Vice President Biden announced the award of nearly $8 billion in federal funds to initiate the planning and development of high speed rail corridors around the nation. Funding had been authorized in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. More than half will be aimed at developing new, large-scale high-speed rail programs. California received the largest single share, of up to $2.25 billion, for its planned project to connect Los Angeles to San Francisco and points in between with trains running up to 220 miles per hour. Florida will receive up to $1.25 billion to develop a new high-speed rail corridor between Tampa and Orlando with trains running up to 168 miles per hour. Approximately $1.1 billion has been allocated to upgrade existing track between Chicago and St. Louis to permit trains to travel at up to 110 miles per hour. The remaining $3.4 billion is allocated among projects to serve corridors in Madison-Milwaukee-Chicago, Charlotte to Washington, D.C., Eugene, OR, to Seattle, Detroit to Chicago, Cleveland to Cincinnati, and in the Northeast.
A summary of all high speed rail grants is available here.
January 26, 2010,Surface Transportation Board Hears Oral Argument in Challenge to Safe Harbor for Certain Rail Acquisitions
The Surface Transportation Board (STB) heard oral argument in a case challenging the validity of a mechanism used for nearly 20 years by public transit and commuter operator agencies to acquire active freight rail corridors free of STB oversight. Since 1991, the Board has authorized agencies operating passenger service to acquire the real estate and physical assets in a rail corridor without taking on the associated common carrier obligation as long as another party remains responsible for conducting freight service on the line. A group of unions has argued that the Interstate Commerce Act and Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act do not create separate interests in the operating rights and physical plant of a line of railroad, and that acquisition of the physical assets therefore is subject to STB jurisdiction. If the Board adopts the unions' arguments and limits or reverses its existing approach, the impact on future transactions by passenger rail agencies to acquire active freight rail lines will be significant.
A copy of the STB’s Notice of oral argument is available here.
January 21, 2010,National Transportation Safety Board Announces Report Recommending Installation of Inward-Facing Cameras in Rail Cabs
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) announced that it has completed its investigation into the fatal September 12, 2008, collision between a passenger commuter train and freight train in Chatsworth, California. In its synopsis of findings and recommendations, the NTSB recommended that inward- and outward-facing cameras and audio recorders be installed in all controlling locomotive cabs and cab car operating compartments in order to verify that train crew actions are in accordance with safety rules and procedures. The NTSB recommended that such devices have a minimum 12-hour continuous recording capability, that the recordings be easily accessible for review and that railroads regularly review such recordings in conjunction with other performance data.
Publication of the full report is pending. A preliminary summary of the NTSB’s findings and recommendations is available here.
January 15, 2010,Federal Railroad Administration Issues Final Rule on Positive Train Control System Requirements
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has issued its final rule, including detailed technical specifications, for implementing positive train control (PTC) on all commuter and intercity passenger rail lines, and a significant subset of freight rail corridors. PTC is an automated, signal-based system of automatically controlling the movement of trains to prevent collisions and the incursion of trains into restricted zones. The mandate to install PTC appeared in the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, and requires PTC to be installed by December 31, 2015, on each main line over which poison- or toxic-by-inhalation hazardous materials are transported, each main line used for regularly provided intercity or commuter passenger service (subject to certain exceptions) and any additional line of railroad as the FRA may require. FRA has solicited further comment to address the clarity, certainty and transparency of the criteria governing relief from the requirement to install PTC.
The final rule is available here.
January 8, 2010,Federal Railroad Administration Issues Final Rule on Passenger Equipment Safety Standards
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has released its final rule governing the structural capacity of cab cars and multiple-unit locomotives to withstand head-on impacts. Such cars incorporate an engineer’s cab and passenger compartment for use as the lead car in a passenger consist. Because trains configured with leading cab cars or multiple-unit locomotives have no traditional locomotive in the lead, the lead car must be able to withstand a head-on collision. The final rule is based on structural modeling and full-scale field testing and requires the equipment to absorb collision energy and maintain sufficient integrity in crashes of a specified magnitude and speed to protect the interior space of the car. The final rule applies to cab cars and multiple-unit locomotives in service at speeds not exceeding 125 mph. The FRA rejected analogous European crashworthiness standards as inapplicable because of the lighter weight and differing collision characteristics used to formulate the European rule.
View the final rule here.
October 29, 2009,AMTRAK Releases Strategic Guidance and Five Year Financial Plan
Amtrak’s Strategic Guidance governs planned service improvements and expansion, including six broad goals to be safer, greener and healthier and to improve financial performance, customer service, and meet national needs. The Strategic Plan also creates key performance indicators to measure progress toward the stated goals. In concert with the Strategic Plan, the Five Year Financial Plan for FY 2010 – FY 2014 provides detailed financial projections for Amtrak’s revenue, operating costs, capital programs and debt service obligations. Among the specific plans to be accomplished by the end of FY 2014 are to increase ridership by 15 percent, grow ticket revenue by 20 percent, expand service on eight existing state-supported corridors, form two new state partnerships and improve reliability of service across the railroad.
View Amtrak's Strategic Guidance here and Five Year Financial Plan here.
October 15, 2009,Federal Railroad Administration Issues Preliminary National Rail Plan
On October 15, 2009, the Federal Railroad Administration ("FRA") issued its Preliminary National Rail Plan (the "Preliminary Plan"), which sets out general principles and parameters to guide the development of policies to improve the nation's rail transportation system. The Preliminary Plan was mandated by the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008, and is intended to deploy rail's attributes to improve safety, foster livable communities, increase the economic competitiveness of the U.S. and promote sustainable transportation as part of a first-ever National Rail Plan. The Preliminary Plan reflects the introduction of high-speed rail as a significant component of the nation's rail transportation system, and aims to increase the integration of all transportation modes. The Preliminary Plan identifies issues to be considered in formulating a National Rail Plan, rather than setting out prescriptive approaches, and emphasizes that State rail plans are expected to play a large role in identifying issues and priorities.
View the Preliminary Plan here.