The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has found that the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has not addressed three congressional requirements for their grants programs contained in the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) and the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act).
According to the GAO, the FTA has not:

  • issued regulations regarding the evaluation and rating process for Core Capacity Improvement projects, which are a category of eligible projects within the program;
  • established a program of interrelated projects designed to allow for the simultaneous development of more than one transit project within the Capital Investment Grants program; or
  • implemented a pilot program designed to create a fast-track approval process for transit projects that meet specific statutory criteria.

During the review, FTA told GAO that they do not have any immediate plans to address any of the three statutory provisions. The FTA cited an earlier budget proposal by President Trump to eliminate the Capital Investment Grant program, however, Congress provided the program with $2.6 billion in funding since that proposal and required FTA to continue to administer the program in doing so.
The GAO left the FTA with three recommendations for Executive Action:

  1. The FTA administrator should initiate a rulemaking regarding the evaluation and rating process for Core Capacity Improvement projects, consistent with statutory provisions.
  2. The FTA administrator should take steps, such as undertaking additional research or public outreach, to enable FTA to evaluate and rate projects in a program of interrelated projects, in a manner consistent with statutory provisions; and
  3. The FTA administrator should take steps to describe the process project sponsors should follow to apply for consideration as a pilot project under the Expedited Project Delivery for Capital Investment Grants Pilot Program.

FTA stated to the GAO that it is reviewing the law and determining their next steps but did not indicate any specific plans or timeframes for addressing the three outstanding provisions. In their report, the GAO warned the FTA that “by not addressing those provisions, FTA runs the risk of failing to implement provisions of federal law.”
Click here to read the GAO’s full report.


The GAO is an independent, nonpartisan agency that works for Congress. Often called the “congressional watchdog,” GAO investigates how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars.

A pair of final regulations were issued by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) in July that rounded out the National Public Transportation Safety Program’s regulatory framework.
The Public Transportation Agency Safety Plan rule, taking effect July 19, 2019, requires transit agencies to incorporate Safety Management System (SMS) policies and procedures in the development of safety plans. The rule sets scalable and flexible requirements for transit system safety plans by imposing the appropriate regulatory burden in achieving safety goals.
Compliance with the rule is required within a year, and FTA plans to offer guidance to assist large transit agencies in their development of safety plans and SMS implementation. FRA said application of the rule to small and/or rural transit systems will be deferred in order to evaluate the safety risks posed by these systems and to determine the need for future regulatory action.
The Public Transportation Safety Training Certification Program rule establishes a training curriculum for those who have safety oversight of rail transit systems. The rule goes into effect August 20, 2018.
“Through these rules, FTA will enter a new era of safety and we will continue to work with our state and industry partners to enhance public transit’s safety record,” acting FTA Administrator K. Jane Williams said in a July 18 release.
The authority for FTA to create a National Public Transportation Safety Program and to give it nationwide transit safety oversight was initially granted in 2012 by Congress and then enhanced by 2015’s FAST Act. Prior to that, FTA primarily was a grant-making agency.
For more information, read the FTA release on the rules.

States must receive FTA certification by April 15, 2019, or new federal transit funds cannot be awarded

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration (FTA) announced that North Carolina, Puerto Rico and Washington have obtained federal certification of their rail transit State Safety Oversight (SSO) Programs, in advance of an important safety deadline.
Federal law requires states with rail transit systems to obtain FTA certification of their SSO Programs by April 15, 2019. By federal law, the deadline cannot be waived or extended.
“FTA is pleased that North Carolina, Puerto Rico and Washington have developed safety oversight programs that meet federal certification requirements and will strengthen rail transit safety,” said FTA Acting Administrator K. Jane Williams. “With this certification, transit agencies in the three jurisdictions can continue to receive federal funding.”
The North Carolina Department of Transportation is responsible for providing safety oversight of the Charlotte Area Transit System light rail and streetcar systems.
The Puerto Rico Emergency and Disaster Management Bureau is responsible for providing safety oversight of the Tren Urbano heavy rail system.
The Washington State Department of Transportation is responsible for providing safety oversight of the Sound Transit light rail systems and City of Seattle street car and monorail systems.
By April 15, 2019, 30 states must obtain certification of 31 SSO programs. With today’s announcement, 17 states have now achieved SSO program certification.
If a state fails to meet the deadline, FTA is prohibited by law from awarding any new federal transit funds to transit agencies within the state until certification is achieved. A certification status table by state is available online.
To achieve FTA certification, an SSO Program must meet several federal statutory requirements, including establishing an SSO agency that is financially and legally independent from the rail transit agencies it oversees. In addition, a state must ensure that its SSO agency adopts and enforces relevant federal and state safety laws, has investigatory authority and has appropriate financial and human resources for the number, size and complexity of the rail transit systems within the state’s jurisdiction. Furthermore, SSO agency personnel responsible for performing safety oversight activities must be appropriately trained.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao said at CES, an annual technology show in Las Vegas, that she plans to take steps toward creating policy guiding the development of self-driving transportation for trucks, buses, transit systems and trains. One of the steps that Chao plans to take toward creating this new policy is to deregulate these industries.
“I also want to take this opportunity to announce that the Department (DOT) will be seeking public input from across the transportation industry to identify existing barriers to innovation. This includes not only barriers that impact vehicles, but also impediments to innovations that can impact our highways, railroads, trains and motor carriers,” Chao said.
In response to Chao’s announcement, SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director John Risch wrote in an email, “This rush to autonomous vehicles of all kinds should worry all transportation workers.
“We have been working with Congress to limit legislation on self-driving vehicles to automobiles and to not include buses and trucks. So far our efforts on that front have been successful,” Risch said. “We will continue to work on this issue, but the times they are a-changing.”
As part of Chao’s efforts to deregulate the transportation industry, notices for public comment have appeared in the Federal Register on behalf of DOT’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
FHWA

  • Click here to read the Request for Information on Integration of ADS into the Highway Transportation System as published by the Federal Register – to be published 01/18

FTA

  • Click here to read the Request for Comments on Automated Transit Buses Research Program as published in the Federal Register
  • Click here to read the Request for Comment on Removing Barriers to Transit Bus Automation

NHTSA

  • Click here to read the Request for Comment on Removing Regulatory Barriers for Automated Vehicles from the Federal Register

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Senate Committee on Appropriations approved the FY2018 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, July 27, which prioritizes funding for critical transportation projects, community development initiatives and core housing programs that serve the nation’s most vulnerable individuals.
The bill provides $60.058 billion, $2.407 billion above FY2017 enacted levels, to fund the U.S. Department of Transportation, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and related agencies. The bill was passed unanimously, 31-0.
The committee-passed bill places a priority on programs to improve the safety, reliability and efficiency of the nation’s transportation system, including increased funding for the TIGER grant program. The measure also emphasizes rental assistance and community development, providing funding for the Community Development Block Grant, HOME, and other programs.
“Our economy and the well-being of the American people benefit from responsible investments in American infrastructure and community development. This bill continues federal funding to support these objectives,” said Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran (R-Miss.). “Senators Collins and Reed have worked to balance national priorities within budget constraints. I am pleased to recommend this bill to the Senate.”
“This bipartisan bill is the product of considerable negotiation and compromise, and makes the necessary investments in our nation’s infrastructure, helps to meet the housing needs of the most vulnerable among us and provides funding for economic development projects that create jobs in our communities,” said U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), chairman of the Senate Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee. “Our bill strikes the right balance between thoughtful investment and fiscal restraint, thereby setting the stage for future economic growth.”

Transportation Funding Highlights:

Transportation – $19.47 billion in discretionary appropriations for the U.S. Department of Transportation for fiscal year 2018. This is $978 million above the FY2017 enacted level.
•    TIGER Grants – $550 million, $50 million above the FY2017 enacted level, for TIGER grants (also known as National Infrastructure Investments).
•    Highways – $45 billion from the Highway Trust Fund to be spent on the Federal-aid Highways Program, consistent with the FAST Act. The bill also continues to allow State Departments of Transportation to repurpose old, unused earmarks for important infrastructure projects.
•    Aviation – $16.97 billion in total budgetary resources for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), $563 million above the FY2017 enacted level. This will provide full funding for all air traffic control personnel, including more than 14,000 air traffic controllers, and more than 25,000 engineers, maintenance technicians, safety inspectors and operational support personnel.
The bill also provides $1.1 billion for the FAA Next Generation Air Transportation Systems (NextGen), and fully funds the Contract Towers program to help ease future congestion and help reduce delays for travelers in U.S. airspace. In addition, the bill rejects the proposed privatization of the air traffic control system and provides greater flexibilities for airports to make much-needed capacity improvements.
•    Rail – $1.974 billion for the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), $122 million above the FY2017 enacted level. This includes $1.6 billion for Amtrak for the Northeast Corridor and National Network, continuing service for all current routes. The bill also provides $250.1 million for FRA safety and operations, as well as research and development activities.
The bill also provides $92.5 million for the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvement grants program, of which $35.5 million is for initiation or restoration of passenger rail, $26 million for Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair grants, and $5 million for Restoration and Enhancement grants.
•    Transit – $12.129 billion for the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), $285 million below the FY2017 enacted level. Transit formula grants total $9.733 billion, consistent with the FAST Act. The bill provides a total of $2.133 billion for Capital Investment Grants (“New Starts”), fully funding all current “Full Funding Grant Agreement” (FFGA) transit projects, which is $280 million below the FY2017 enacted level.
•    Maritime – $577.6 million for the Maritime Administration, $55 million above the FY2017 enacted level, to increase the productivity, efficiency and safety of the nation’s ports and intermodal water and land transportation. The Maritime Security Program is funded at $300 million.
The bill includes $32 million for State Maritime Academies (SMAs), and an additional $50 million for the National Security Multi-Mission Vessel. This training ship is essential for the SMAs to continue to provide the nation with a strong merchant marine workforce.
•    Safety – The legislation contains funding for the various transportation safety programs and agencies within the U.S. Department of Transportation. This includes $908.6 million in total budgetary resources for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and $744.8 million for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Of this amount, $68 million is to complete the modernization of border facilities to improve inspections along the Southern border. The bill also includes $272 million for the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to help address safety concerns related to recent pipeline and crude oil by rail accidents.
Click here to read the full press release from the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations.

On July 10, the House Appropriations Committee released the fiscal year 2018 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development funding bill, which includes funding for the Department of Transportation (DOT), the Department of Housing and Urban Development and other related agencies.
Although the bill will fund many important transportation projects and agencies, including Amtrak, at the same time it eliminates funding for DOT’s TIGER grant program and prohibits any funding for the ongoing California high-speed rail project.

Tiger grant defunded

In effect since 2009, the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program provides funding to improve safety and economic opportunity. It has supported innovative projects including multi-modal and multi-jurisdictional projects and has improved access to reliable, safe and affordable transportation for communities.
Since the program’s inception, the TIGER grant program has provided a combined $5.1 billion to 421 projects in all 50 states and U.S. territories. Demand is high in the TIGER grant program and 2016 saw requests that far exceeded the available funds allotted to the program.
If the House Appropriations bill passes as is, this valuable and much sought after program will be eliminated.

SMART TD reaction to bill

“These levels of funding for Amtrak are significant compared to the White House’s disastrous plan to eliminate long distance trains,” said John Risch, SMART TD national legislative director. “There is still a long ways to go in the process. We will continue to work with the entire House and Senate to strike the awful language regarding California high speed rail and try to get increased funding for both transit and passenger rail.

“In North Dakota, there is a nasty big-truck provision in the bill that would increase allowable truck weights to 129,000 lbs. – that needs to be removed,” Risch continued. “North Dakota’s roads and bridges are already being pounded by oil industry trucks and this terrible idea makes it final that passage road conditions will get far worse.”

Transportation Funding Highlights

Department of Transportation (DOT) – The bill includes $17.8 billion in discretionary appropriations for the Department of Transportation for fiscal year 2018. This is $646 million below the fiscal year 2017 enacted level and $1.5 billion above the President’s request. In total budgetary resources, including offsetting collections, the bill provides $76.7 billion to improve and maintain our nation’s transportation infrastructure.
The bill targets funding to programs and projects that will increase efficiency, safety, reliability and quality of life for the traveling public, and that will help improve commerce and economic growth.

  • Air – Included in the legislation is $16.6 billion in total budgetary resources for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) – $153 million above the fiscal year 2017 enacted level and $435 million above the request. This will provide full funding for all air traffic control personnel, including 14,500 air traffic controllers, 7,400 safety inspectors and operational support personnel. The bill also builds on several years of increased funding by providing over $1 billion for the FAA’s Next Generation Air Transportation Systems (NextGen), and funds Contract Towers at $162 million. These investments will help ease future congestion and help reduce delays for travelers in U.S. airspace. In addition, the bill does not include new passenger facility and general aviation fees.
  • Highways – The bill allows $45 billion from the Highway Trust Fund to be spent on the Federal-aid Highways Program, which is $968 million above the fiscal year 2017 level. This funding mirrors the authorized levels and will provide much needed growth and improvements within America’s highway system.
  • Rail – The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is funded at $2.2 billion, $360 million over the fiscal year 2017 enacted level and $1.1 billion above the request. The bill provides a total of $1.4 billion for Amtrak, of which $328 million is for the Northeast Corridor grants, and $1.1 billion is to support the national network. The bill also continues to require overtime limits for Amtrak employees to reduce unnecessary costs. Rail safety and research programs are funded at $258.3 million, equal to the fiscal year 2017 enacted level. This will fund inspectors and training, plus maintenance and safety investments to the physical rail infrastructure, to help ensure the safety of passengers and local communities. The bill also provides funding for two authorized grant programs. It funds the Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair grants at $500 million, which will address some of the $38 billion backlog on the Northeast Corridor – needs that must be addressed simply to sustain current rail services. In addition, the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Grants are funded at $25 million, a reduction of $43 million from the fiscal year 2017 enacted level. Eligible activities include capital and safety improvements, planning, environmental work and research. The bill prohibits funding for high speed rail in California, the California High Speed Rail Authority, and for FRA to administer a grant agreement with the Authority that contains a tapered match. The bill prohibits the Surface Transportation Board from taking action regarding the construction of high-speed rail in California unless the Board has jurisdiction over the entire project.
  • Transit – The bill provides $11.75 billion in total budgetary resources for the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) – $662 million below the fiscal year 2017 enacted level and $526 million above the request. Transit formula grants total $9.7 billion – consistent with the authorization level – to help local communities build, maintain and ensure the safety of their mass transit systems. Within this amount, $1.75 billion is included for Capital Investment Grants, and $1 billion for “Full Funding Grant Agreement” (FFGA) transit projects. Core capacity projects receive $145 million in the bill, $182 million is included to fund all state and local “Small Starts” projects, and $400 million is included for new projects that provide both public transportation and inner-city passenger rail service. These programs provide competitive grant funding for major transit capital investments – including rapid rail, light rail, bus rapid transit and commuter rail – that are planned and operated by local communities. Bill language limits the federal match for New Starts projects to 50 percent.
  • Maritime – The legislation includes $490.6 million for the Maritime Administration, $31.9 million below the fiscal year 2017 enacted level. This funding level will continue to increase the productivity, efficiency and safety of the nation’s ports and intermodal water and land transportation. The Maritime Security Program is funded at the full authorized level of $300 million.
  • Safety – The legislation contains funding for the various transportation safety programs and agencies within the Department of Transportation. This includes $927 million in total budgetary resources for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) – an increase of $15 million over the fiscal year 2017 enacted level – and $758 million is included for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), $113.6 million above the fiscal year 2017 enacted level.  Also included is $268 million for the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), an increase of $3.7 million over the fiscal year 2017 enacted level.
  • Grants – The legislation eliminates National Infrastructure Investment grants (also known as TIGER grants), which were funded at $500 million in fiscal year 2017.

Click here to read the full press release from the House Appropriations Committee.

May 4, 2017
WASHINGTON—In the strongest bi-partisan moves since President Trump’s election, Congress passed a spending agreement called an omnibus that is in stark contrast to President Trump’s 2018 budget – in which he proposed that transportation funds be slashed by the billions.
In the just-passed bill, Congress secured and even increased transportation funding, preventing the loss of tens of thousands of jobs, the elimination of long-distance train service, and a freeze on railway, road and bridge infrastructure upgrades.
One important spending increase was an additional $570,000 for the National Mediation Board; something SMART TD has been seeking to reduce the backlog of arbitration cases.
For our California members, the omnibus included $100 million in funding for the Caltrain electrification project. This means that construction—previously placed on hold by the Department of Transportation will move forward, with federal funds for Caltrain guaranteed until the end of FY2017.
For our Great Lakes pilot and flight attendant members the Essential Air Service (EAS) program for rural communities was fully funded, something President Trump’s budget also proposed to eliminate.
For our bus membership, federal funding for the Federal Transit Administration—slated by the administration for a major decrease—was increased by $236 million and $2.4 billion was included for transit Capital Investment Grants.
In addition, the omnibus spending provides a permanent solution to guarantee health care for nearly 22,000 retired union mine workers who have been impacted by the growing decline of coal production.
“This proposal, which had widespread support on both sides of the political aisle sends a clear message to the White House that killing transportation initiatives and slashing transportation funding is not supported by Congress – and is not in the best interest of transportation workers and our nation,” stated John Risch, SMART TD national legislative director.
Although this vote is a victory, we must remain vigilant and continue to contact our representatives to make it clear that investments in transportation are vital to our nation.
Click here to visit the SMART TD Legislative Action Center to contact your elected officials about the rail, bus and air transportation issues that affect us.

Dear SMART TD member:
Please click on the link below to sign (and please share) this online petition to the White House asking the FTA to approve funding that has long been earmarked for San Francisco’s Caltrain’s Peninsula Corridor Electrification Project (PCEP) a high-speed, electric commuter train system project:
https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/support-9600-american-jobs-tell-fta-approve-funding-caltrain-electrification
The petition urges President Donald Trump to reverse Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao’s decision, which was to stop the project by placing $647 million in federal funding on hold. This transportation project has been years in the making and promises to replace Caltrain’s current diesel-fueled commuter trains with high-speed, electric commuter trains.
Sen. Diane Feinstein and Sen. Kamala Harris of Calif. released the following joint statement: “This decision is incomprehensible and will cause delays and millions of dollars of additional costs that could jeopardize the entire project.”
President Trump’s repeated campaign promises centered on safeguarding American jobs, creating thousands of new jobs and upgrading and developing our infrastructure. If that is still true, Trump must allow this project to move forward, as Caltrain PCEP will create nearly 10,000 jobs, not only in California, but in other states as well, including Utah, Texas, Virginia and Pennsylvania.
Please sign the petition and share it with your brothers and sisters of of all trades.

Railway Age reported that contractors on Caltrain’s Peninsula Corridor Electrification Project (PCEP) agreed to extend the deadline for first day of construction from March 1, 2017 to June 30, 2017.  This announcement was issued just days after the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) announced that the execution of a $647 million funding FFGA (Full Funding Grant Agreement) is now on hold, and will remain on hold until President Trump decides which federal funds will go where in his budget proposal to Congress. When/if completed, the years-long project will culminate in a cleaner, more efficient, high-speed commuter rail system in the busy San Francisco corridor, as diesel commuter trains will be replaced by electric trains. However, if the funds are not released by June 30, the project may be derailed permanently.  Read the complete article here.
To read more on the project, click here.