FRA Providing $2.3B for Intercity Passenger Rail

The Federal Railroad Administration issued a notice of funding opportunity on December 7 to make almost $2.3 billion in funding available to expand and modernize intercity passenger rail nationwide through the Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail grant program, known as the “partnership program.” The deadline for funding applications is March 7, 2023.

[Above photo by MBTA]

The FRA said it seeks to “improve existing rail corridors and create new ones,” broadening access to intercity passenger rail services for communities across the country, via the projects selected through this NOFO. The agency added that its partnership program, through which this grant money will flow, supports the revitalization of rail assets, such as fixing track, structures, and grade crossings.

Photo by NCDOT

FRA also noted that the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act or IIJA – enacted in November 2021 – greatly expanded the “scope, funding, and vision” of its partnership program.

Subsequently, this NOFO allows eligible entities to expand and establish new intercity passenger and high-speed rail services. In addition, projects that improve the safety, reliability, and performance of intercity passenger rail services and project planning elements, such as environmental review and final design, are also now eligible for funding under the Partnership Program.

“This partnership program NOFO offers exciting opportunities to expand federal support for intercity passenger and high-speed rail services to all parts of our nation,” said FRA Administrator Amit Bose in a statement.

FRA’s Amit Bose. Photo by AASHTO.

“FRA will work closely with states and stakeholders to provide sustained and dedicated investments in this vital mode of transportation, and together, we will reshape America’s passenger rail network for generations to come,” he added.

This NOFO follows over $1.4 billion in Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvement or CRISI funds made available in September by FRA to support projects that improve U.S. freight and passenger rail network and strengthen supply chains. FRA added that it plans to make additional partnership program funds for projects located on the Northeast Corridor available later this year.

State departments of transportation are consistently working to improve intercity passenger rail service in their respective regions – with some experiencing record-setting ridership figures.

For example, the North Carolina Department of Transportation set back-to-back passenger rail ridership records in September and October this year via its “NC by Train” service.

Eric Boyette. Photo by NCDOT.

“What a fantastic accomplishment for the traveling public,” noted NCDOT Secretary Eric Boyette in a statement. “We are excited to see record numbers of our citizens and visitors choose to ride NC by Train. The train offers people an easy way to travel without the stress of a drive.”

NC by Train – in operation since 1990 – provides multiple trains throughout the day between Raleigh and Charlotte with stops in the cities of Cary, Durham, Burlington, Greensboro, High Point, Salisbury, and Kannapolis, as well as daily service connecting Charlotte, Raleigh, and New York via the Carolinian.

Meanwhile, in late June, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and freight rail conglomerate Norfolk Southern Corp. reached an initial agreement to expand passenger rail access in western Pennsylvania.

The deal follows a February announcement that both PennDOT and Norfolk Southern would jointly examine opportunities to eliminate chokepoints and improve Pennsylvania’s rail system to better permit freight and passenger trains to operate together.

Photo by Norfolk Southern

Both expect to hammer out a final definitive agreement by the end of 2022, after which construction on passenger rail infrastructure would begin, with the new service anticipated to start within three years of the definitive agreement’s execution.

To help state DOTs in such efforts as part of their yearly investments in public transportation services nationwide, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials is working with the States for Passenger Rail Coalition or SPRC to help identify intercity passenger rail projects that states and state entities are advancing to provide for and improve intercity passenger rail.

The AASHTO Rail Resource Center or ARRC continually updates that survey – called the “Projects in the Pipeline Survey” – as projects receive approval and funding support.

Further details on state rail investments are available as part of the AASHTO annual “Survey of State Funding for Public Transportation Report,” which is available for purchase via the online AASHTO Store.

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