State set to provide funding for train safety system for Metrolink and Colton Crossing project

An aerial view of the Colton Crossing area. Click to see larger image. Credit: San Bernardino Associated Governments.

The California Transportation Commission is scheduled to vote this week on $91 million in state funding for the Colton Crossing project — a vote that also has implications for the anti-collision rail safety project known as positive train control (PTC). The Commission meets Wednesday and Thursday in Sacramento; here’s the agenda.

PTC is an advanced computer-satellite system that monitors trains as they travel across the region and can shut them down to prevent collisions. It’s a big deal in Southern California, where Metrolink commuter trains share tracks with freight trains.

To make a long story short:

The Colton Crossing is a rail choke point in San Bernardino County where Union Pacific tracks cross Burlington Northern Santa Fe tracks. It’s a busy area and freight trains — many carrying goods from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach — often have to sit and wait before heading to destinations across the U.S.

The long-sought solution has been to separate the tracks. But there has been a dispute over who should pay for it, with the state and federal government set to pay for about $135 million of the $202 million price tag for a project that will increase the carrying capacity of private freight railroads.

That’s one reason the project has been controversial. The other reason is that some communities near the busiest freight corridors are fearful that greater freight capacity in the region means more trains traveling through their neighborhoods.

In order to get the state to agree to fund for the Colton Crossing project, a number of different agencies known as the Southern California Consensus Group — which includes Metro — had to come to an agreement before the state would kick in the $91 million. Here’s the letter from the Consensus Group outlining the agreement.

In the case of Metro, the agency’s approval of the deal was contingent on the state also beginning to allocate money for PTC, with the state eventually set to provide $46.5 million plus other funds. The total cost of PTC is $201 million and there is still a $10-million shortfall — money that is being sought from Congress.

In addition, as part of the Colton Crossing deal, Metro was able to get freight railroads to discuss high-speed rail routes across the San Fernando Valley. Union Pacific also agreed to discuss granting a bikeway easement across their property at Taylor Yards in the Glassell Park area of Los Angeles.

Metro CEO Art Leahy was satisfied with the deal, as Metro is one of five county transportation agencies that funds Metrolink. He also credited Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa for helping craft the deal to secure the PTC funds.