Sen. Charles Schumer called on his colleagues in the U.S. House of Representatives last week to promptly pass the bi-partisan Senate version of the Transportation Bill, that would give the Metropolitan Transportation Agency (MTA) greater resources and flexibility to prioritize the construction of a second track from Farmingdale to Ronkonkoma.
The Senate Surface Transportation Reauthorization bill, which passed the Senate today, provides additional direct funding to New York State and would allow the MTA to apply for waivers from an impending deadline that requires the agency to pay for and construct a massively expensive Positive Train Control (PTC) system by 2015. The MTA estimated in their 2009 capital plan that the implementation of PTC by 2015 would cost approximately $750 million.
The Senate version also protects the existing transit funding source, the mass transit account, which was threatened by legislation proposed by the House of Representatives. Other proposals touted by the House could have slashed up to 37 percent of funds for New York’s public transportation system.
“This bill will allow the MTA to make the Farmingdale-to-Ronkonkoma second track its first priority for Long Island,” said Schumer, in a statement. “Our bipartisan bill provides the MTA with the needed flexibility to finally devote the resources to move forward with this second track; a project the agency itself described as its most important project for the Long Island Railroad."
Currently, there is a single electrified track between the Farmingdale and Ronkonkoma LIRR train stations. A second track between the two stations has been part of the LIRR’s plan for decades, but funding constraints have gotten in the way of its completion. While the right of way currently exists, properties have been acquired, and the MTA has made numerous statements supporting the effort, the project has not moved forward.
One of the major impediments to the MTA’s capital plan is a federal mandate requiring the implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC) signaling that the MTA estimates will cost $750 million, and is required to be completed by 2015. PTC is designed to better monitor train movement, allowing operators to receive information about location of other trains with GPS-based technology, to ensure safety.
While supportive of the vital safety improvements that would be brought to the transit system with the implementation of PTC, Schumer noted the technology that is needed to meet this looming deadline is still not fully developed. Additionally, Transit systems across the country and stakeholders including the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) have warned that the technology is not ready to be implemented across major transportation networks and would effectively kill necessary upgrades like second track in upcoming capital plans.
The provision in the bill, allowing for waivers to be granted through 2018, will provide the MTA with the flexibility to both move forward with other capital investments like second track as well as more fully develop the PTC technology to meet LIRR demands.
Schumer announced today that the Surface Transportation Reauthorization bill, allows agencies, like the MTA, to apply for one year waivers on the deadline, though 2018, so as to allow longer term financing options and freeing up needed capital for major infrastructure improvements, like the 2nd track project. The bill, which passed the Senate today now heads to the House. Schumer is urging the House to pass the Senate version of the bill so that the MTA can apply for a waiver and keep commitments to starting construction of a second track project in the next capital plan. Schumer also noted that construction of a second track, would have the added benefit of increasing safety on the LIRR, which is one of the goals of PTC implementation.
In making his case, Schumer noted that a second track extension would affect the old Republic, Pinelawn, Wyandanch, Deer Park, Brentwood and Central Islip LIRR stations. The economic impacts are significant and would improve access to a redesigned Ronkonkoma Hub and MacArthur Airport, would reduce delays and overcrowding on the railroad, and increase the total number of trains that can run at the LIRR’s busiest station, Ronkonkoma. Schumer noted that the second track is a crucial compliment to regional development strategies that he has been working on with his colleagues in local government.