California risks losing $1.4 billion in federal train funds. Safety is the issue

A freight train passes above a homeless encampment near Arcade Creek and Roseville Road.
A freight train passes above a homeless encampment near Arcade Creek and Roseville Road.

California is at risk of losing at least $1.4 billion in federal train funds next year because it has failed so far to meet safety requirements.

The Federal Transit Administration took the unusual step Monday of issuing a public warning to California and several dozen other states of a looming deadline for those states to prove they have complete programs to oversee and promote rail safety.

If the state fails to meet the deadline, it puts state rail and bus systems, including Sacramento and its local Regional Transit district, at risk of losing 2019 FTA funding.

FTA officials said they are not allowed to award federal transit funds to states that have not obtained a certificate showing they have federally approved train safety monitoring programs in place. Several national Amtrak crashes in recent months have highlighted the push for more safety.

Of the 30 states at risk of meeting the April 15, 2019 deadline, California stands out as the state with the second most to lose, just behind New York, according to data tables released this week by the FTA.

Officials with the State Public Utilities Commission, which oversees train safety in California and is considered one of the strongest safety programs in the country, said they are finalizing their application and hope to have it ready to submit to the federal government in May.

States are required to create a system safety program standard for local rail agencies to follow, and to do safety inspections of rail programs every three years, as well as investigate crashes and hazardous conditions, and oversee corrective action when incidents occur.

Although the formal deadline for certification is next April, FTA officials this week said states should have their documents submitted by September, or risk not obtaining certification by the deadline.