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Denton County commissioners backs DCTA action

Profile image for By Bj Lewis / Staff Writer
By Bj Lewis / Staff Writer

Denton County commissioners have thrown in their support for a grant that will allow the Denton County Transportation Authority to pay for government-required rail safety equipment.

The agency is applying for the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation and hoping a good word from the commissioners will help the cause.

DCTA needs $21 million for the new safety measure known as positive train control.

“PTC, a safety system that is mandated by the federal government, is a direct result of the Chatworth [Calif.] incident where the operator was texting, blew a signal and hit a freight train head-on,” said Dee Leggett, DCTA’s vice president of communications and planning.

Positive train control uses global positioning system devices to get locations and a program to predict appropriate operations of the train. If the system senses the train is not behaving in the manner it is supposed to, the safety system takes over and shuts down the train.

“It is intended to help eliminate human error,” Leggett said. “But it’s a very robust, complicated and expensive system.”

The system is to be implemented by December 2015 as outlined in the Rail Safety Improvement Act, passed by Congress in 2008.

The PTC system has loomed large over DCTA in recent years as staff and board members have looked to planning for the future.

“Knowing that we have to figure out how to pay for what is a $21 million project for the agency influences our financial planning for the entire organization, from the capital investment to what type of service we can put on the street,” Leggett said. “We have to make sure we have adequate revenue and capital funds to pay for PTC or pay for the debt coverage associated with issuing bonds to pay for PTC.”

DCTA has recently partnered with Trinity Rail Express to implement a regional PTC system so that the agencies can gain some cost efficiencies by sharing resources and operations. The regional PTC system will cost approximately $55 million to $57 million, Leggett said.

The Regional Transportation Council has earmarked about $25 million for the program.

Leggett said the TIGER grant, which is typically for regionally specific projects such as this one, can help pick up some of the other costs, and Denton County Judge Mary Horn and county commissioners agree.

“When DCTA first began, the subject of positive train control wasn’t even thought of yet,” Horn said. “While it’s probably a good idea, it’s very, very expensive and there was a very short time frame for everyone, not just DCTA, to be in compliance.”

Horn said it’s always good for DCTA to know that the county is supportive of its endeavors, and she hopes having the formal support for the grant will help persuade the transportation department to award it.

BJ LEWIS can be reached at 940-566-6875 and via Twitter at @BjlewisDRC.