Capital Metro’s investment in federally mandated Positive Train Control rises to $77.26 million

Construction on the MetroRail line includes adding double tracking, Positive Train Control communication systems and a new downtown rail station.

Construction on the MetroRail line includes adding double tracking, Positive Train Control communication systems and a new downtown rail station.

The Austin region’s transit agency is prepared to spend up to an additional $7.12 million in an effort to make the MetroRail commuter line safer and comply with federal regulations.

By the end of 2020, Capital Metro has to fully implement Positive Train Control, a communication-based train control system that is designed to prevent accidents, according to the Federal Railroad Administration. So far, the agency is expecting to spend about $77.26 million.

On Sept. 23, the Capital Metro board authorized an additional $7.12 million, which includes $2.1 million for contingency, toward the project. Funds were already allocated in the fiscal year 2019-20 budget, which the board also approved Sept. 23.

“We don’t have a choice, but it is going to make our system safer,” board President Wade Cooper said at the Sept. 23 meeting.

The U.S. Department of Transportation now requires the new PTC technology to allow for the automatic control of train speeds and movements to prevent incidents, such as train-to-train collisions and derailments as a result of speeding, according to the FRA.

The federal mandate was enacted by the U.S. Congress in 2009 and required rail operators to add the PTC by Dec. 31, 2018. According to Capital Metro, it met all the federal deadlines and qualified for an extension of the full PTC implementation to Dec. 31, 2020, and the agency is on track to meet the final deadline.

In an effort to meet this deadline next year, Capital Metro had to suspend Saturday MetroRail service in 2019 to allow crews to work on the line. The downtown rail station also closed in April as crews began construction of the new permanent station that will open in 2021 adjacent to the Austin Convention Center.

Additionally, Capital Metro has been making improvements to its commuter rail system to increase capacity, and this new work also needs the new PTC communication system, said Dave Dech, Capital Metro's vice president of rail operations.

The agency just wrapped up construction on siding, or double tracking, in four locations along the commuter rail line that will allow for trains to pass each other, thus allowing for increased capacity and more frequent service.

“These expansion programs as we expand this Red Line and look for greater frequency and capacity, PTC is now part of the rules no matter what we do,” he said.
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