Railroads get funding boost for accident prevention

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Amtrak and other rail systems around the country have been selected to receive federal grants to install a technology that can help prevent deadly train accidents, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) announced Tuesday.

The FRA awarded $25 million to 11 projects in six states and the District of Columbia to implement positive train control (PTC), a system that automatically slows a train that is going over the speed limit.

{mosads}The technology, which will eventually be mandatory for railroads, can prevent derailments, collisions and improper track switching.

Congress has already provided over $650 million in grants since 2008 to assist passenger railroads with installing the technology, and the FRA is currently accepting applications for an additional $199 million in competitive grant funding.

The latest round of grants was made available through fiscal 2016 spending legislation as railroads continue to push toward compliance.

President Obama sought $1.25 billion in his fiscal 2017 budget request to help railroads install PTC systems.

“These grants get us a bit closer to implementing Positive Train Control — a long overdue technology that prevents accidents and saves lives,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement. 

“We will continue to do everything in our power to help railroads install this technology. We encourage Congress to fully fund the President’s request for significant funds to help more railroads activate PTC.”

Some of the new grants include $2.6 million for Amtrak in D.C. to secure PTC wireless communication between a train’s point of origin and targeted receivers on the Northeast Corridor and $3 million for the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit District in California to install PTC and new grade crossing warning systems.

PTC is now equipped along a large portion of the Northeast Corridor, and a number of rail systems around the country are also rolling out the technology. But some critics say it is not being installed fast enough.

Congress extended the original PTC implementation deadline from the end of 2015 to at least Dec. 31, 2018.

Federal investigators attributed the deadly Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia last year to a distracted train operator who sped around a sharp curve.

Railroads will be required to install the automated system in areas where certain hazardous materials are transported and areas that support regularly scheduled intercity passenger or commuter services.

PTC is expected to be equipped along more than 70,000 miles of track, the FRA said.

“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,” FRA Administrator Sarah Feinberg said.  “Today’s grants inch us closer to a safer rail network with PTC.”

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