Washington, DC – U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand today announced $33,749,974 in federal funding for New York State Department of Transportation. The funding was allocated through the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to advance safety precautions on railways and provide engineering assistance to implement the Positive Train Control (PTC) system from Poughkeepsie to just west of Schenectady. PTC is used to monitor train speeds and prevent collisions and derailments by controlling train movements through a system of integrated command, control, communications, and information technologies.
“I am pleased the FRA heeded our calls; this critical investment will protect all New York train riders. Simply put, Positive Train Control is a life saver. Once put into action, PTC can help prevent fatal crashes and derailments – and it of utmost importance that all of our rail lines have this life-saving technology installed as soon as possible. I helped establish a federal grant fund to help pay the cost of PTC implementation in cases where governments and taxpayers would have to bear the brunt of the expense, and then I brought former FRA Administrator Sarah Feinberg to Schenectady to personally push for these funds. Now, I am pleased to announce that a part of this funding to Upstate New York,” said Senator Schumer. “This $33 million federal investment that is needed to make sure Upstate and Hudson Valley residents are neither passed over in this major safety overhaul nor left holding the bag for these desperately needed improvements.”
“This federal funding will help implement positive train control, grade crossing improvements and other critical rail safety updates,” said Senator Gillibrand. “I will continue to fight to make sure New York has access to the resources necessary ensure that commuters and communities around the tracks are safe.”
PTC is a communications and signaling system that can be used on railroads to prevent collisions caused by excessive speed and human error. PTC is used to monitor train speeds and prevent collisions and derailments by controlling train movements through a system of integrated command, control, communications, and information technologies. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has found dozens of passenger and freight rail accidents over the years could have been prevented through the use of PTC, like the 2013 Spuyten Duyvil crash in the Bronx in which four lives were lost and the derailment of Amtrak Train 188 in Philadelphia in 2015 in which eight lives were lost and hundreds injured.
As a result of the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, the federal government required PTC technology be implemented across many of the country’s tracks, including the Amtrak Empire Corridor’s Hudson Line. This Hudson Line runs from New York City, up through the Hudson Valley and into the Capital Region, where it then turns west and proceeds on to Buffalo, NY and beyond. Metro-North, which operates the New York City to Poughkeepsie section of track, has already set up its own plan and timeline for implementing PTC. In addition, CSX, which operates the section of track that runs from the City of Amsterdam in Montgomery County on to Western New York, has also put in place its plans to implement the life-saving technology.
However, the portion of track from Poughkeepsie to the area between Schenectady and Amsterdam (called “Hoffmans”) is leased by the NY State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) from CSX, since it is primarily used for Amtrak passenger service rather than CSX freight service. Schumer and Gillibrand explained that this means taxpayers would be forced to shoulder the cost of PTC implementation if NYSDOT were to simply undertake the project the way a private company, like CSX or an authority like Metro-North, could. As a result, Schumer and Gillibrand pushed for significant federal funds to aid this safety overhaul to ensure the Capital Region is not left out in the cold while the rest of the Hudson Line has PTC implemented. Furthermore, Schumer and Gillibrand highlighted that installing PTC on this line is even more critical given that it was one of the federally-designated high-speed rail corridors where trains travel at speeds of up to 110mph.
Previously Schumer and Gillibrand said this situation is exactly why he worked to create the PTC Implementation Funding Program as a part an earlier federal transportation bill, the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. Schumer said the FRA approving this $30 million dollar federal investment will make sure the Capital Region is not left out of this critical rail safety overhaul. Schumer and Gillibrand said failing to secure these funds could mean the area from Poughkeepsie to Schenectady – nearly the entire Capital Region – could be negatively impacted by a lack of PTC technology. Schumer and Gillibrand said the two million people who travel on the Empire Corridor line each year deserve the peace of mind this important safety system can provide.
Amtrak trains carried more than two million passengers through New York State this past fiscal year. In Fiscal Year 2015, the Albany/Rensselaer station was ranked as the 9th highest (out of 500 stations) in the nation when it comes to ridership. According to Amtrak, it sees a ridership of roughly 825,353 people per year. The Schenectady station was ranked 131st and sees an annual ridership of 58,551 people.
For decades, especially under Administrator Feinberg’s leadership, FRA has strongly advocated for railroads to implement PTC. The agency has provided more than $716 million to railroads to implement the technology and also awarded an nearly $1 billion loan to MTA’s Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road for PTC. FRA has dedicated working to assist railroads with PTC implementation and established a task for to monitor railroads’ progress and spot industry-wide challenges early.
Gillibrand’s original letter to the Federal Railroad Administration and Federal Transit Administration included here.