February 05, 2019

Rail Runner receives Wi-Fi grant

The U.S. Department of Transportation has awarded a grant of nearly $2.5 million for upgrades to the New Mexico Rail Runner’s Wi-Fi network, a necessary component for the installation of federally-mandated Positive Train Control, or PTC, technology.

The technology is specifically designed to prevent train crashes and derailments by providing a reliable path of communication for the PTC system.

As part of those upgrades, 26 towers will be installed along the 100-mile corridor between Belen and Santa Fe. In addition, nine cab cars, 13 coach cars and 15 stations will be equipped with the Wi-Fi enhancements necessary for a PTC system.

The announcement of the $2,496,842 grant was made Tuesday by U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján.

“The Rail Runner connects rural, Native, and urban communities across Central New Mexico, expanding access to jobs, schools, hospitals, and opportunities, and growing our economy in the process,” said Udall, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Acknowledging that the rail system still needs more funding to fully implement the PTC system, Udall, Heinrich and Luján said they will continue fighting for funding to upgrade the Rail Runner and keep it safe and reliable.

“It’s important that we build on this modern infrastructure investment and ensure that the Rail Runner remains a safe and efficient public transit option for the students, commuters, and all residents who rely on this critical transportation link in New Mexico,” Luján said.

Last August, the New Mexico delegation announced that DOT awarded the Rio Metro Regional Transit District $29,359,208 toward implementation of PTC for the Rail Runner commuter train system.

Augusta Meyers, spokeswoman for Rio Metro, said this latest investment in the Rail Runner by the federal government is welcome, and brings full implementation of the PTC system a step closer.

“The PTC is a federal mandate and is costing our system alone nearly $60 million,” she said. “The deadline to implement it was at the end of 2018, but only 4 percent of rail systems in the country have been able to meet that deadline because of the prohibitive cost.”

The transit district was given an extension until the end of 2020 after it came up with a risk mitigation plan to provide a number of “enhanced safety measures, so that we can continue to run service while we implement PTC.”

With or without PTC, Meyers said, the Rail Runner’s Wi-Fi system needed to be upgraded for the sake of passengers who required it to do work during their commute and were impeded by “holes in the network.”

The transit district has a funding plan in place to acquire more of the money needed to fully implement PTC, Meyers said.

By:  Rick Nathanson
Source: Albuquerque Journal