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FRA Announces $227 Million for Passenger Rail Projects

August 21, 2019

Feds Assist 10 Rail Projects Across 10 States

by Sean Jeans-Gail, Vice President of Policy + Government Affairs

The Federal Railroad Administration released two year’s worth of capital repair grants to support 10 passenger and commuter rail projects in 10 states, kickstarting a program that has lagged in recent years.

The $227 million in grants are part of the Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair (SOGR) Program and will go to repair, replace, or rehabilitate publicly or Amtrak owned or controlled railcars, stations, and track infrastructure. These funds were appropriated by Congress in the Fiscal Years 2017 and 2018 budget bills, which Rail Passengers Association leadership and members fought hard to secure.

“It’s gratifying to see the advocacy work of the Rail Passengers coalition pay off in such a big way,” said Rail Passengers Association President Jim Mathews. “It’s especially important to see the kinds of project the SOGR program is funding now that the FAST Act is drawing to a close. As we think about what comes next, we need to see exactly how this program is improving the day-to-day travel experience of America’s passengers.”

The FRA provided the following information on the SOGR awards (grants listed alphabetically by state):

Illinois – A-32 Bridge Replacement Project
Up to $17,840,000

Commuter Rail Division of the Regional Transportation Authority (Metra)

The proposed project will construct a new grade-separated double-tracked rail bridge over Milwaukee Avenue, immediately north of the Grayland Metra Station on Metra’s Milwaukee District-North Line in Chicago, IL. The project will replace the existing structure, originally constructed circa 1899 and rated in poor condition, with a new double-track bridge that will return the crossing to a state-of-good-repair and provide future maintenance and operating cost savings.

Louisiana – New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal Platform and Plant Improvement Projects
Up to $3,700,854

City of New Orleans

The proposed project will complete the final design and construction activities to upgrade the station platforms and train servicing capabilities at the city-owned New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal (NOUPT). The platform modifications will bring the platforms into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), increasing platform height to provide level boarding for two Amtrak trains (Sunset Limited and City of New Orleans) and improve the step height for a third train (Crescent) that serve the station. Level boarding will improve the station’s accessibility to nearly 200,000 annual passengers boarding at NOUPT, and reduce the risk of passenger and employee injuries that currently occur at the station. Additional work will expand the rail platform canopy, update the lighting, electrical, air, and water systems that service trains at NOUPT, and these improvements will lead to increased reliability.

Massachusetts – South Station Expansion Tower 1 Early Action Project
Up to $41,183,845

Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT)

The proposed project will replace and upgrade signals, switches, track, power systems, and related infrastructure at Tower 1 interlocking, a major rail network junction at the entrance to the Boston South Station terminal area. The current interlocking is a major source of delay at a location used by almost 60,000 daily rail passengers. The project provides resiliency benefits to protect Tower 1 from the risk of flooding and providing redundant power systems in the event of power loss. Operability through the interlocking will be enhanced via upgrading the interlocking signal and communication systems to more technologically advanced systems.

Michigan – Kalamazoo-Dearborn State of Good Repair Projects
Up to $23,335,165

Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT)

The proposed project, located on the Michigan-owned segment of the Chicago to Detroit/Pontiac corridor will rehabilitate rail, crossties, and track surfaces between Kalamazoo and Dearborn, MI, and replace two railroad bridges in Jackson, MI. The track rehabilitation project replaces approximately 80,000 ties east of Battle Creek and 15 track miles of rail east of Jackson. The project will also maintain a state of good repair and preserve passenger train speeds up to 110 mph and improve rail safety for Amtrak’s Wolverine service, which carries nearly 500,000 annual passengers. The bridge replacements at Jackson St. and Mechanic St. in the City of Jackson will replace the deteriorated existing structures with new spans. The current structures rely on temporary shoring and have sub-standard vertical clearances, resulting in frequent bridge strikes by highway vehicles. The new spans will reduce or eliminate bridge strikes and reconfigure and expand sidewalks under the structures to improve pedestrian safety.

North Carolina – Piedmont Intercity Fleet and Infrastructure Investments Project
Up to $76,888,000

North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT)

The proposed project involves the acquisition of 13 new passenger coaches for use in the Piedmont service and an expansion of the Charlotte Locomotive and Railcar Maintenance Facility (LRMF). The coaches will replace the 1950s and '60s-era coaches currently in use and expand overall fleet capacity. With the new coaches, Piedmont service can increase to four daily frequencies from Charlotte to Raleigh to meet growing passenger demand. Aligning with NCDOT’s equipment overhaul and state-of-good-repair program to improve parts standardization on older cars and reduce stress on inventory of irreplaceable spare parts, the project will result in tangible and measurable improved service reliability and resilience. The selected project would expand the LRMF to include additional storage tracks and interior spaces for inspection, maintenance, and repair and storage of spare parts and supplies.

New Jersey – Newark Penn Station Platform D Improvements
Up to $18,445,000

New Jersey Transit Corporation (NJ Transit)

The proposed project rehabilitates Platform D at the NJ Transit-owned Newark Penn Station in Newark, NJ. The existing platform is in poor condition, with portions of the platform closed to passenger access. The project includes repairing and/or replacing Platform D slabs and joints, reconstructing platform edges, installing new tactile strips and timber rub rails, repairing the overhead canopy and upgrading lighting. Amtrak and NJ Transit trains operate on tracks 3 and 4 at Platform D. The platform restoration will improve passenger movement and safety by reducing congestion points where passengers board and alight, and may enable reduced dwell times for trains using the restored and reopened sections of the platform. Amtrak joined with NJ Transit as co-applicant, meeting the statutory preference for applications submitted by multiple eligible applicants.

Pennsylvania – Keystone Corridor Zoo Interlocking State of Good Repair Improvements Project
Up to $15,140,236

Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT)

This proposed project rehabilitates and upgrades ZOO interlocking in Philadelphia at the junction of the Amtrak-owned Keystone Corridor and Northeast Corridor main lines. The project includes slope stabilization and reconstruction of retaining walls, rehabilitation of an existing but underutilized track, and switch and signal reconfiguration. The project area carries more than 8.4 million passengers on more than 35,000 Amtrak and Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) passenger trains per year, as well as limited freight service. The maximum operating speeds through ZOO will increase, the additional track will provide increased capacity and operational flexibility, and modernized components will reduce infrastructure lifecycle costs. This project was selected for less than the $27,600,000 requested in the application to keep within the overall funding availability. FRA consulted with PennDOT to confirm their ability to complete the project with the available Partnership Program funding.

Rhode Island – Providence Station State of Good Repair and Capacity Project
Up to $12,500,000

Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT)

The proposed project will complete a major rehabilitation of the Amtrak-owned 33-year-old Providence Station in Providence, RI, to adequately prepare for its continued future use. Providence Station serves 1.4 million annual intercity and commuter rail passengers, ranking it among the highest ridership stations in the Amtrak and MBTA networks. An interior rehabilitation will replace and repair assets, replace assets with assets that increase capacity and provide a higher level of service, including expanding the building’s footprint to the west and repurposing existing space, removing an external planter wall to open the station’s western entrance, improving ticketing and baggage operations, expanding restroom size, upgrading the public-address system with visual displays, updating interior wayfinding signage, and increasing safety for pedestrian access to the station. The project will coincide with the completion of a bus facility to the south that will revive the intermodal connection that existed between the rail and bus terminals 30 years ago.

Washington – Washington State Passenger Rail Car Replacement Project
Up to $37,500,000

Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT)

The proposed project will procure three new consists for use in the Amtrak Cascades intercity passenger rail service between Eugene, OR, and Vancouver, B.C., on the Pacific Northwest Rail Corridor. The project will replace the three Washington State-owned Talgo VI trainsets: two used in current service and one damaged in the December 2017 derailment. The loss of the damaged trainset reduced the Amtrak Cascades schedule from six to four daily round trips. The project will enable WSDOT meet existing and anticipated passenger demand, and allow Washington to retire its Talgo VI trainsets. Additionally, the new consists will provide flexible train car capacity, reduce infrastructure lifecycle costs for the Amtrak Cascades fleet, and improve onboard amenities.

Wisconsin – Next Generation Single-Level Coach and Cab-Coach Equipment Acquisition Project
Up to $25,716,900

Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT)

The proposed project will replace deteriorated, outdated passenger cab-baggage and coach cars used in the Chicago–Milwaukee Amtrak Hiawatha Service with three single-level cab-coach cars and six single-level coach cars. The new equipment will adhere to the Next Generation fleet standards promulgated by the Next Generation Equipment Committee. The Hiawatha service is Amtrak’s ninth-busiest route, and its busiest route in the Midwest, serving almost 850,000 passengers annually. Replacement of the cab-baggage cars with cab-coach cars will increase seating capacity, reduce fuel consumption, increase equipment reliability, reduce crowding, and improve accessibility for passengers with disabilities.