TOPIC: Federal Transit Administration

LA mayor looks to step up mass transit – with federal loans

In southern California the car may still be king, but the train is making tracks. Officials hope a novel financing plan, pushed by Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, will garner federal aid faster and help the region realize a long-held dream, re-building its once robust commuter rail network.

The crux of the plan would roll funds from a recently approved transportation sales tax surcharge into leveraging a big federal loan (more…)

Crazy train

After a nearly-fatal blow, a wildly expensive California airport monorail project may be back on track.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Michael Cabanatuan, officials with a regional rail agency will consider plans Thursday to revive a 3.1-mile automated monorail project that critics assail as wildly expensive, painfully slow, and in violation of Civil Rights laws. (more…)

Life in the Fast Bus Lane

Chicago has applied again to get a $150 million Federal Transit Administration grant to build a rapid-transit-style bus service. Under the plan, the Chicago Transit Authority would add bus lanes across the city for express buses, such as a bus that connects downtown to the city’s far South Side, 103 blocks away.

The Chicago Tribune’s John Hilkevitch reports that this is Chicago’s second attempt to get the program going — the Bush administration gave Chicago the grant but revoked it when the city didn’t develop a proper “congestion pricing strategy.” (more…)


The National Transportation Safety Board has identified a cause of the Washington, D.C. Metro crash that killed nine people last month, reports the Washington Post’s Lena H. Sun:

Metro’s automatic train control system relies on track circuits to maintain a safe distance between trains. The circuit detects the presence of trains by using audio frequencies transmitted between the train and the steel rails. The system is supposed to automatically transmit signals to the next train down the line. If the following train gets too close, the system sends a "zero" speed signal that forces it to stop.

Federal investigators and Metro officials said the track circuit where the crash occurred intermittently lost its ability to detect a train after a key component was replaced five days before the crash. Shortly after that repair work, the circuit fluttered and flickered, reporting the presence of a train one moment but not the next, transit officials said.

Washington Metropoliant Area Transit Authority officials claim they will have to "invent" new back-up circuits and, besides, there’s not really the funding for additional safety measures.

Understanding Government did a full report on "WMATA" (just to the right and a little above this post) and found that while it’s a pastime to complain about the Metro trains, the system is usually safe and efficient. The Post has diligently documented the D.C. Metro’s problems since the June 22nd crash. But I think commuters in D.C. and cities with public transit across the country should keep in mind that riding mass transit remains far safer than driving a car.-MB


Aging equipment and potentially faulty signalling technology may have led to this week’s fatal Metrorail crash in Washington, D.C.  But as Michael Cooper reports in the New York Times, the nation’s largest rapid transit systems — in Boston, Chicago, New Jersey, New York, Philadelphia and Washington — receive only one-fifth of federal financing dedicated to system maintenance.  The Federal Transit Administration gave poor marks to all these systems’ equipment this year.  The majority of such funding goes to smaller, newer systems.  Perhaps this is because supporting such systems is more attractive politically — investing in something new gives politicians a better sound bite than supporting maintenance budgets for subway systems that are decades old.  But the result of these funding priorities became very clear the other day between Fort Totten and Takoma Park stations. -NH

Matthew Blake is on vacation.


It would seem a heady time for mass transit: ridership is way up, referendums passed across the country on election day to bolster funding, and mass transit champion Barack Obama is in the White House with "noted rail enthusiast" Joe Biden his no. 2. But as Chicago Tribune transportation reporter Jon Hilkevitch tells us, mass transit is actually getting worse:

Chicago and other cities with long-established rail systems are getting a shrinking share of federal funding for commuter trains, resulting in a $50 billion shortfall to modernize deteriorating transit lines, according to a report to Congress released Thursday.

The Federal Transit Administration study found that more than one-third of the commuter rail stations, trains and other facilities are in marginal or poor condition on the seven largest rail transit systems — Chicago, Boston, New York, New Jersey, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Washington.

It means the systems often rely on equipment being used beyond its recommended life cycle and may be defective and dangerous. Parts of the Chciago Transit Authority’s 224-mile rail system are more than 100 years old.

In other words, there is an infrastructure crisis and it will take a lot more to salvage these systems than modestly stronger support in Washington. With both federal and state governments running unprecedented budget deficits, government not only must encourage mass transit but prioritize it. Maybe employees of military contractors can get training in repairing rail lines.-MB


Yesterday I looked at how the Obama administration might boost federal support for mass transit. Well, as ProPublica’s Ben Protess reports, one quick way would be to replenish the 30 transit agencies across the country that had bank deals backed by AIG. The bailed out insurance behemoth would guarantee deals where transit agencies in cities like Washington, D.C. and Chicago sold rail equipment to banks and then leased the equipment back at a discount. The IRS would then give the banks substantial tax breaks.

But the IRS ended the sell-in-lease-out tax breaks in 2004 and now the Treasury Dept. is reluctant to give the mass transit companies relief. It’s a complex issue- transit agencies probably could have managed their money better. But transit agencies that tried to stay afloat should be more deserving of bailout money than Wall Street firms hungry for more profit.-MB


Steven Pearlstein of the Washington Post comments on an issue that is raising hackles and concerns around the Washington, D.C. region — the Department of Transportation’s decision not to fund a rail expansion of the Washington Metro to Dulles International Airport in Northern Virginia.   The project, in planning for nearly a decade, has been the subject of much debate, but the DOТ’s decision to drop funding completely (when $900 million had originally been pledged) has been somewhat of a shock even to critics of the plan.  And ideology — rather than a pragmatic look at the real costs and benefits of the project — seems to be at the heart of the decision.  (more…)