- Associated Press - Sunday, June 7, 2015

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Despite a federal deadline to install a safety upgrade to New Mexico’s Rail Runner line, state transportation officials said Sunday that the funding does not exist.

The state Department of Transportation said there is no plan to cover the $50 million cost for safety technology designed to prevent collisions and derailments. The rail system must implement the new technology by Dec. 31, according to the Federal Railroad Administration. The agency is threatening to fine railroad owners who don’t comply.

Sarah Feinberg, acting administrator of the federal agency, told the House transportation committee last week that the “positive train control” technology is “absolutely necessary” and she planned to enforce its installation.

The technology, known as PTC, automatically slows trains that reach dangerous speeds through human error. It uses GPS and other devices to detect when trains are going too fast or making unauthorized movements.

Congress first set the deadline in 2008.

State transportation officials have repeatedly asked for an extension, the Albuquerque Journal (http://bit.ly/1GiZ67W ) reported. So far, Congress has refused to change.

New Mexico Department of Transportation spokeswoman Melissa Dosher said in an email that “just like most of the 22 commuter railroads in the United States, we do not believe it is feasible to implement the Positive Train Control by the end of the year.”

The costly technology requirements are a lot considering the Rail Runner is a smaller passenger rail system, Dosher said. The department, according to Dosher, is “hesitant to invest the tens of millions of dollars that would be required to implement PTC if such a system is not a requirement for Rail Runner under a new bill passed by Congress, particularly since there are no dedicated federal funds for PTC implementation.”

The 97-mile Rail Runner line, which operates between Santa Fe and Belen, is already enduring rising costs in other areas. With a $33 million yearly operating budget, Rail Runner is also costing the state $28 million a year in debt service payments until 2024. The state will have to shell out $112 million in 2025 and 2026 in balloon payments.

Taxpayers also are on the hook for nearly $493 million in infrastructure for the rail line. The Department of Transportation estimates the total debt repayment over 20 years, including principal and interest, works out to nearly $784 million.

Locomotives, coach and cab cars are also supposed to start $25 million in refurbishments next year. The work is expected to continue through 2020, according to state records.

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Information from: Albuquerque Journal, http://www.abqjournal.com

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