June 22, 2009
FTA and FRA Administrators Address Rail Conference
BY SUSAN BERLIN, Senior Editor
At the June 15 Opening General Session of the APTA Rail Conference in Chicago,the newly confirmed FTA and FRA Administrators—Peter M. Rogoff and Joseph C. Szabo respectively—delivered speeches before a packed audience of more than 1,000 people. Both emphasized the critical need for the industry to show movement and success in its Recovery Act projects.
Rogoff described FTA’s “great progress” in disbursing American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds to public transportation agencies. “We are entering into an authorization process like none other,” he said, “which will include some very tough choices.” He stressed the importance of public transit agencies applying for ARRA grants by July 1 to avoid having to turn any funding back for reallocation, and urged those who have not yet submitted their applications to do so.
“Our challenge as an industry,” the FTA administrator said, “is to show that we’re worthy of the respect of the voting members of Congress. Our performance during ARRA will set the tone for the forthcoming authorization of any of the funds for transit.” He also said he is committed to making the New Starts process “easier and faster and less onerous” for applicants.
“If we want members of Congress to take tough votes, they must believe in their guts in what they are voting for,” said Rogoff.
The administrator next talked about the need for timely maintenance for rail systems, citing a FTA state of good repair report that he termed “a wake-up call for many people, including me.” He noted that while new projects may hold more promotional appeal—e.g., “We’re opening a new line” or “We’re purchasing new trains”—deferring critically important maintenance issues is risky, because these issues can then become major safety concerns.
Szabo spoke of the current “rail renaissance” and “unprecedented levels of attention” facing the entire transportation industry, stating: “We’re going to bring rail into the 21st century.”
“Regional rail will provide seamless connections between livable cities, and it will improve existing corridors,” Szabo said. Citing President Barack Obama’s interest in a high-speed rail system that will move thousands of Americans, he said: “We’re entering a new chapter in American public transportation. It’s time to give more Americans the convenience and the joy of connecting high-speed rail with commuter and light rail.”
Szabo briefly reported on his visit to high-speed rail agencies in France and Spain, where rail innovation is “inspired and encouraged.” He added: “Cities, by virtue of being located on a high-speed rail line, become destinations.” He also noted the need for interoperability in implementing positive train control, and added: “We have to mindful that if the first of the [ARRA] projects are not successful, the entire program is at risk.”
He concluded his remarks by asking that the advancement of rail not become a hostage of political interests. “We must look beyond political and geographical boundaries,” he said, calling for conference attendees to join him to “work together to rebuild America.”