Audit Reports

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Federal Funding Support for Positive Train Control Implementation

Requested by the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
Project ID: 

What We Looked At

Over the last decade, several fatal rail incidents have led the U.S. rail industry and congressional leaders to commit to implementing PTC systems. The Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (RSIA) requires PTC systems to be implemented across a significant portion of the Nation’s rail system. The Department of Transportation was tasked with overseeing PTC implementation and funding support, including grants and loans. At the request of the Senate Committee, we reviewed DOT’s oversight of Federal funds for PTC projects and the recipients’ use of the funds. Specifically, we were asked to (1) identify railroads that received DOT funding or financing to support PTC projects, (2) describe those PTC projects, (3) assess oversight of PTC funding allocations, and (4) determine whether recipients have used awarded funds “completely and efficiently.”

What We Found

As of the end of fiscal year 2017, approximately 60 percent of the U.S. rail systems required to implement PTC are receiving financial support from the Federal Government. Specifically, 29 rail systems have received Federal assistance for projects that vary greatly based on the type of railroad, needs for interoperability, and available communication systems. According to estimates provided to us by the funding recipients, DOT has provided $2.9 billion to date to implement PTC. However, our work focused on approximately $2.3 billion obligated as of September 30, 2017, since this was the actual amount available to recipients. Of this amount, the Department obligated $1.3 billion through various Federal grants, and the Build American Bureau issued approximately $1 billion through a loan. More than half of the recipients reported spending over 50 percent of their funds, and about 40 percent reported spending over 75 percent. However, although the deadline for PTC implementation is the end of this year, only 4 of 37 funding recipients have completely expended their Federal funds.

Our Recommendations

We are not making recommendations; the data gathered are informational and meant to be responsive to the congressional request.