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FRA, FTA Highlight Priorities, Perspectives

The leaders of the two federal agencies—FRA and FTA—that have the greatest impact on the public transportation industry addressed the June 12 General Luncheon, “Federal Partners Share ­Perspectives and Priorities.”

FRA Administrator Ronald Batory opened by referencing his long career in the railroad industry and acknowledging how challenging and important rail transit jobs are today, especially with matters of safety.

FTA Executive Director Matt Welbes praised Denver as “a city that transit built” and recognized the city’s Union Station multimodal development as a beneficiary of federal Value Capture financing.

Batory said APTA members “represent the heart and soul of America” and called safety “the foundation of success: non-negotiable, uncompromising and unforgiving.” He cited safety as one of his three main priorities, along with technology and infrastructure.

Batory’s wide-ranging comments about rail safety included the need to increase public awareness of the danger of crossing railroad tracks, the risks of trespassing on railroad property and Operation Lifesaver’s efforts to disseminate this information.

In describing Denver’s embrace of public transit, Welbes noted that, before FTA moved its Region 8 office to downtown Denver two years ago, only one of the office’s 17 employees could commute by public transit; now all employees in the office can do so.

Welbes also reported on FTA’s allocation of $277 million in emergency relief funds to support public transit systems damaged in 2017 by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. Approximately $232 million of that total will support response, recovery and rebuilding, with the balance going toward resiliency projects to reduce the risk of serious damage during future natural disasters. He said FTA has had permanent personnel in Puerto Rico since before the hurricane.

He noted that Oregon recently became the 14th of 31 U.S. states and territories to receive certification for its State Safety Oversight (SSO) program and that 13 more have submitted SSO plans to FTA. When Welbes addressed last year’s APTA Rail Conference in Baltimore, he said, none of the 31 jurisdictions had yet received SSO certification.

Welbes concluded: “Our mission at FTA is just six words—improve public ­transportation for America’s communities. … We’ll continue working together, identifying changes that can support increased safety, key investments in transit infrastructure, continued research and demonstrations of innovative practices and a thoughtful review to streamlining our regulations.”

Batory gave a brief history of PTC efforts, beginning with the 2008 enactment of the original federal law that required U.S. railroads to implement the technology by the end of 2015. A law passed in 2015 extended the deadline to Dec. 31, 2018.

In his comments about infrastructure, Batory described how the Regional Transportation District transformed ­Denver’s public transit landscape in less than 25 years. He called the agency’s investments in light rail and commuter rail “one to be very proud of” and stressed that rail transit agencies must “concentrate on spending wisely, not on how much you spend” when making plans.

APTA President and CEO Paul P. Skoutelas hosted the luncheon session.
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