Politics & Government

Rail systems get millions to improve safety

A rail car tops an elevated rail line on Tuesday, May 30, 2017, in Waipahu, Hawaii.
A rail car tops an elevated rail line on Tuesday, May 30, 2017, in Waipahu, Hawaii. AP

Seventeen of the nation’s commuter and intercity railroads will get millions from the federal government to beef up safety with automatic systems aimed at slowing down trains in dangerous situations.

The U.S. Department of Transportation announced the $197 million in funding after the rail systems waged a lengthy struggle to meet deadlines for implementing the system, called positive train control.

Congress had mandated the system in 2008 and set a 2015 deadline. But as commuter rail systems lacked the funding to meet the deadline, it was extended until the end of next year. The new money should expedite the process.

The South Florida Regional Transportation Authority will receive up to about $31.6 million – the second-highest funding allocation for one group – to install its PTC technology. The Florida rail’s 72-mile-long Tri-Rail commuter line runs through Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties, operating 50 weekday and 30 weekend passenger trains for more than 14,000 passengers daily.

The Florida Department of Transportation will get up to $1.84 million for its Central Florida Rail Corridor.

Tonia Harris leaves her home in Perrine at 6 a.m. to get to work in downtown Miami. She rides to the Busway, boards a bus to the Dadeland South Station, boards a train to the Government Center and then walks to 155 NW Third Street.

Two California systems will be receive a total of $25 million for Caltrain, a commuter rail line on the San Francisco Peninsula and in the Santa Clara Valley, as well as rail in the Greater Los Angeles region.

The Missouri Department of Transportation will receive up to about $12 million for the Kansas City Terminal Railway, which hosts several Amtrak trains.

Four of the nation’s major commuter railroads were determined to be unable to meet the 2018 deadline, with three of the largest U.S. freight railroad systems deemed unable to complete the task until 2020, according to Federal Railroad Administration reports filed earlier this month.

Federal Railroad Administration Executive Director Patrick Warren said Wednesday that these funds would assist “some of the most significant railroads in the country that transport several million passengers to and from work every day,” according to the news release.

Last September, a train crashed into a Hoboken, New Jersey, station, killing one person and injuring more than 100. The train was traveling twice as fast as it should have been, and the crash could have been prevented with a positive train control system.

During her confirmation hearing, Elaine Chao told the Senate committee, "The US Department of Transportation has a rare opportunity to shape the transformation of our critical infrastructure." She then went on to stress the need to modernize and e

Jessica Campisi: 609-477-0303, @jessiecampisi