Capital Metro will pay $65.7 million to install “positive train control” on its 32-mile MetroRail line from downtown Austin to Leander, about $14 million more than the transit agency had estimated the federally required safety system would cost.
The Capital Metro board Monday voted unanimously to award a contract to Colorado-based Modern Railway Systems to design and install the network of sensors and controls on its track, 10 MetroRail passenger cars, six freight locomotives and a locomotive belonging to an excursion train that uses part of the line. The company’s bid, Capital Metro’s Melvin Clark told the board, was within 1 percent of the only other competitor for the work.
Asked late Monday about the $14 million discrepancy between their estimate and the final contract cost, Clark and Reinet Marmeweck, Capital Metro’s chief financial officer, could not be reached for comment.
At the board meeting, Marmeweck said that, despite the $51.6 million estimate, the agency had allocated $19 million more in contingency costs for the positive train control project in its five-year capital investment plan. The project expense will be covered by Capital Metro tax and fare revenue, along with a $12.8 million federal grant, said Linda Watson, the agency’s president and CEO.
Under 2008 legislation that Congress quickly passed after a California train collision killed 25 people, tracks nationwide that are shared by freight and passenger trains were required to have the safety controls installed by the end of 2015. That deadline was later extended to the end of 2018, with the possibility of a two-year extension if certain milestones are met on each project.
The system is intended to sense when a train is in a track segment where it doesn’t belong or going faster than it safely should, and then slow down or stop the train.
Capital Metro over the next 16 months must get the system fully operational on a test section, between Leander and the Lakeline station, and have the on-board controls done on all the trains to qualify for the extension.
Board President Wade Cooper called the cost “a huge number” and “an unfunded federal mandate.” The cost, he said, adds urgency to Capital Metro’s efforts to expand the system and increase ridership beyond what is currently fewer than 3,000 boardings a day.
The agency has bought four additional cars, plans to add passing track and expand the downtown station, and says that will allow it to run trains twice as often during morning and evening peak periods, when the trains are standing room only on weekdays.