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April 20, 2020 6:00 PM, EDT

FRA Announces $311 Million in Funding Availability

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More than $311 million in funding is available for projects designed to improve freight and passenger rail connectivity, federal railroad regulators announced this month.

To qualify for the funding, eligible projects need to address congestion concerns, highway-rail grade crossings, improve intercity passenger rail capital assets, and deploy safety technology, according to the Federal Railroad Administration’s notice of funding opportunity for the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements program.

In a notice in the Federal Register, the agency explained, “When the nation’s highways, railways and ports function well, that infrastructure connects people to jobs, increases the efficiency of delivering goods and thereby cuts the costs of doing business, reduces the burden of commuting and improves overall well-being.”

Federal Railroad Administration logo

The notice continued, “Congress authorized this grant program for the secretary [of transportation] to invest in a wide range of projects within the United States to improve railroad safety, efficiency and reliability.”

The application deadline is June 19. A quarter of the funds will be directed to rural projects. The agency noted it could take into consideration geographic diversity, as well as diversity in the size of the systems seeking funding.

Other factors could include an applicant’s receipt of other competitive awards and projects that are in qualified opportunity zones. Additionally, $45 million would be available for projects requiring the acquisition of rights-of-way, track, or track structure for new intercity passenger routes.

FRA Administrator Ronald Batory

Batory

“We’re committed to addressing the unmet transportation needs of rural areas, which face unique challenges in safety, infrastructure condition, and passenger and freight usage,” FRA Administrator Ronald Batory said April 17. “I encourage all eligible parties to take full advantage of this funding opportunity.”

Separately, FRA announced more than $1 billion is directed to Amtrak through a recent federal economic stimulus. The funds are meant to assist with the coronavirus pandemic’s effect on its operations. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao noted, “This $1 billion in federal emergency assistance to Amtrak will help maintain service for its passengers when the economy recovers.”

Last month, the agency proposed a rulemaking aimed at defining Amtrak intercity passenger train on-time performance. The proposed rulemaking also would set, on average, a minimum on-time performance standard of 80%.

“We expect many routes will be much more reliable. Clarity should help all parties ensure compliance,” Batory said.

Ian Jefferies

Jefferies

Association of American Railroads CEO Ian Jefferies said the industry would continue with its role in assisting to move the country’s freight and transport passengers. The group praised Congress’ economic stimulus package that ensured access to unemployment and sickness benefits for rail workers.

Looking ahead at legislative action on Capitol Hill, Jefferies suggested focusing on ensuring funding for existing transportation programs.

“If Congress does choose to pursue an infrastructure agenda, we think first and foremost, programs should be funded; we should really focus on the funding side and not try to do major policy rewrites that could bog things down,” Jefferies said April 14. “I mentioned Amtrak getting funding for critical infrastructure replacement. And for railroads, specifically, we think there’s some opportunities for public-private partnerships, port connectors, grade separations, rail grade crossing projects out there. So, we’re certainly interested, and we will be engaged in the process.”

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