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U.S. Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), and U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.) earlier this week announced that the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) has awarded $2.5 million to the Rio Metro Regional Transit District to help fund positive train control (PTC) work for the New Mexico Rail Runner Express.The funds will be used to upgrade the 97-mile commuter railroad's Wi-Fi network from an aging, proprietary WiMAX system to a cross-compatible long-term evolution system. The work calls for installing 26 towers between Belen and Santa Fe, and equipping nine cab cars, 13 coach cars and 15 stations with the Wi-Fi enhancements necessary for a PTC system."I'm proud to have fought for important federal investment in PTC to ensure that the Rail Runner delivers the highest standards of safety for the thousands of New Mexicans who rely on it to travel and commute each year," said Udall — a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee — in a press release. "But we still have a long way to go before we secure funding to fully implement this system."In August 2018, a delegation including Udall, Heinrich, Lujan, and U.S. Reps. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.) and Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.) announced the USDOT awarded $29.4 million to Rio Metro to fund PTC implementation for the Rail Runner Express. The delegation had written a letter of support for the grant in June 2018.Meanwhile, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) yesterday held the first of six planned "collaborative sessions" involving all 41 railroads responsible for implementing PTC under the congressional mandate.During the session, FRA safety specialists outlined the key steps the railroads must accomplish by 2020's end to fully implement interoperable systems. They also described the FRA’s approach to certifying railroads' PTC systems and provided an update on best practices and lessons learned from the various systems being tested or in place. In addition, railroad representatives posed technical and regulatory questions to the FRA experts.The session also included a keynote by U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who stressed that it's vital all railroads strive to complete implementation in advance of the mandated end-of-2020 deadline."The sooner you get there, the sooner our country will be able to realize all of the safety benefits of PTC," she said, according to a transcript provided by the FRA. "I encourage you to head into these next two years with that goal — to obtain certification and achieve interoperability with your tenant railroads as soon as possible."The USDOT understands the implementation challenges facing railroads and will do whatever it can to help them succeed, such as by providing PTC funding through grant and loan programs, said Chao. "In addition, the FRA has taken steps to ensure it has the necessary human resources to respond to your needs and turn critical documents around in a timely fashion," she said. "And the FRA will continue to collaborate with you in forums like these, and on an individual basis."
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