DART Rail makes taking the train a viable way to reach major events like the State Fair of Texas and the annual AT&T Red River Showdown.
NEEDS FEDERAL INVESTMENT
Across the nation, and here in North Texas, demand for public transportation is on the rise. Congressional authorization of a multiyear surface transportation bill will allow transit agencies and local governments to make realistic plans for the growth and maintenance of public transportation systems.
It has been a decade since Congress approved a long-term transportation bill. And the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), the two-year law that authorizes federal funding for highway and transit projects, expires on May 31.
The DART Rail System has grown rapidly because the agency leveraged every federal grant and financing program available, including full-funding grant agreements, TIGER grants, TIFIA loans and Build America Bonds. While more capital projects are needed, uncertain funding in the years ahead makes the agency's plans tentative.
DART supports the American Public Transportation Association's (APTA) recommendation that Congress authorize a six-year federal public transportation program totaling $100.4 billion.
Such a program would provide transit providers with predictable funding and accommodate the development of long-term, major capital investments needed to:
- Bring existing public transportation infrastructure and facilities into a state of good repair
- Expand the core capacity of current infrastructure
- Support the operation and maintenance of transit systems
- Fund research, training and policy to meet the growing demand for safe, convenient and dependable service
As the system matures, DART will make major capital investments to maintain and replace its vehicles, equipment and facilities.
Fund State of Good Repair Projects
With the majority of the light rail build-out complete, DART's plans reflect an increasing focus on attracting and retaining customers with responsive service and a sustainable system. Consequently, approximately 66 percent of capital spending over the next 20 years is dedicated to state-of-good-repair projects and capital reserves.
Board policy mandates that staff balance the expenses of operations, asset management and capital expansion in the 20-Year Financial Plan. Even in tough economic times, the board and staff prioritize funding for state-of-good-repair projects ahead of growth initiatives to ensure that DART serves the community with high-quality, reliable vehicles and infrastructure.
In the enactment of MAP-21 in 2012, the federal government identified the need for sound financial planning and asset management practices throughout the transit industry. DART has worked with the Federal Transit Administration, other key transportation authorities and APTA to craft national guidelines for this federal policy based substantially on the practices DART has employed since its inception in 1983.
Mockingbird Station is one of DART Rail's most used stations, serving the Red, Blue and Orange lines.
MAP-21 also created a specific "State of Good Repair" grant program to help fund this mandate. DART supports APTA's recommendation that the federal government designate at least $85 billion toward state-of-good-repair grants in future programs to assist public transportation providers in:
- Maintaining the operating condition of vehicles and facilities
- Bringing facilities and vehicles up to good operating condition
- Modernizing rail track, roadway, passenger stations and maintenance facilities
- Reducing the estimated $78 billion backlog in deferred maintenance and replacement needs
Positive train control systems along the Trinity Railway Express line can intervene in train operations by warning crews or causing trains to stop if they are not being operated safely.
Facilitate Positive Train Control
In response to several fatal accidents on other rail systems between 2002 and 2008, Congress passed the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, which requires that Class 1 and commuter railroads implement Positive Train Control (PTC) systems by the federally mandated deadline of Dec. 31, 2015.
PTC systems can intervene in train operations by warning crews or causing trains to stop to prevent train-to-train collisions, overspeed derailments, incursion into an established work zone, and movement through a main line switch in the improper position.
Systems must be interoperable between host and tenant railroads; thus, they require utilizing a common range of radio frequency, or spectrum, so that various types of equipment owned by the different railroads are able to communicate. Interoperability with freight railroads along North Texas' train corridors requires radio spectrum in the 217.6-220.0 MHz range.
The Trinity Railway Express (TRE) is working to implement positive train control according to the approved PTC Implementation Plan. TRE, DART and its regional commuter and freight partners are working together to ensure compliance with the PTC federal mandate with safety, interoperability and cost effectiveness as core objectives. For efficiency, the partners will seek to implement PTC as a regional solution with a strategy that leverages shared operations, technology and maintenance.
DART plans to purchase a license for spectrum allocation that is large enough for the region's current and future PTC needs. Since spectrum in this range is designated by the Federal Communications Commission for other uses, DART has applied for a waiver to use it for PTC.
The Federal Railroad Administration is aware of the challenges facing the railroad industry and is working with DART and its regional partners as they document the project's scope of work, budget and schedule toward PTC implementation.
TRE will begin installing its positive train control system later this year and anticipates completion by 2017.
Promote Transit Commuting
DART supports federal legislation that would create permanent parity in the tax benefit for people who use public transportation and those who drive and park their vehicle at work.
The IRS provision that allows people to set aside up to $250 per month pre-income tax for commuting costs has expired. The tax benefit for using transit has reverted to $130 per month pretax, roughly half of the tax benefit for parking costs ($250 per month pretax) - creating tremendous inequity.
A recent study on mobility attitudes by the nonprofit organization TransitCenter found that "people offered pretax transit commuting benefits from their employers are over five times as likely to take transit regularly as employed persons who are not receiving benefits."
The commuter tax benefit should encourage - not discourage - people to take the subway, bus, trolley, train or vanpool. Expanding public transit use reduces traffic, air pollution and the overall demand for parking. Employers decrease their payroll taxes, freeing capital that can be reinvested in workers, benefits and business growth. Transit benefits are a valuable employee
recruitment and retention tool.
DART's new bus fleet is fueled by compressed natural gas, which offers cost savings.
Support the Use of Alternative Fuels
DART supports federal legislation that would make permanent the existing federal tax credits for alternative fuels and related infrastructure.
These tax credits mean several million dollars to DART for FY 2015 and beyond. This provision offsets alternative fueling costs, freeing revenue to be spent on asset maintenance and other capital projects.
The federal tax credit is a powerful incentive for public transportation agencies to adopt alternative fuel programs and an important source of revenue for those that utilize natural gas for a portion or all of their fleet fueling needs.
The agency is replacing its bus fleet with vehicles fueled by compressed natural gas, which will reduce harmful vehicle emissions and contribute to cleaner air. By locking in a price on natural gas fuel through 2020 from the Texas General Land Office, DART is creating jobs and generating economic activity by purchasing fuel produced in Texas.
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