The Federal Railroad Administration is spreading around $50 million in grants to help railroads develop their collision avoidance technologies known as positive train control, with the largest awards going to shared railroad technology provider MeteorComm and to Amtrak.
The money is a small amount of what freight railroads say will ultimately be billions of dollars in costs to implement and maintain PTC, but the grants are targeted at building systems that work together across the industry. Some shipper groups say the PTC requirements will also generate substantial rail efficiencies, though carriers dispute this.
PTC combines satellite-based train tracking with wayside signals and onboard braking gear. Railroads with few exceptions are required, under the 2008 Rail Safety Improvement Act, to install it by the end of 2015 on passenger trains or trains carrying certain hazardous materials.
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“This new program will help keep the rails safer by accelerating installation of positive train control technology where it is most needed,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. Freight railroads have already been spending hundreds of millions of dollars to get their networks ready, but say the basic command technology is still in development.
They have also been pressing for federal funds to help cover the costs, and some earlier stimulus or discretionary grant programs have already allocated some funds to PTC projects.
Out of this latest $50 million, the FRA awarded nearly half -- $21 million – to Renton, Wash.-based MeteorComm to build “the required radio platform for an interoperable communications network across multiple railroads.”
The company was once a subsidiary of BNSF Railway but now is jointly owned by the four largest U.S. railroads – BNSF, Union Pacific Railroad, CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern Railway. Those four together formed the industry’s Interoperable Train Control Committee in 2008, to unify the development standards for what were then differing PTC concepts.
BNSF and Alaska Railroad already use some MeteorComm products. The tech company earlier won a contract with the industry’s Transportation Technology Center, owned by the Association of American Railroads, to help develop radio links for PTC.
That MeteorComm grant is one of several aimed at supporting a type of PTC called Vital Train Management System, the FRA said.
In addition, a $12.85 million grant to Amtrak is for a project to make the separate PTC system on its Northeast Corridor work with the freight railroads’ VTMS. Another $6.6 million grant to the Southern California Regional Rail Authority is also aimed at standardizing an interoperable VTMS system for all railroads in the Los Angeles Basin.
Other new FRA grants include:
-- $6.6 million to the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority –
Long Island Railroad/Metro North Railroad to develop and test interfaces for Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor.
-- $1.5 million to the AAR’s Railroad Research Foundation, which is working on a rail corridor risk management system to help implement the 2008 law.
-- Contact John D. Boyd at email@example.com.