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FRA Kicks Off Corridor ID Program, Proposals Expected This Year

May 13, 2022

By Rail Passengers Staff

The Federal Railroad Administration today formally established the Corridor Identification Program for new passenger-rail corridors required by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and pledged to solicit entries from around the country during this calendar year.

This program is in addition to a separate FRA effort, mandated by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, to examine long-distance route expansion and improvement.

“The Corridor ID Program will help expand intercity passenger rail service beyond the Northeast Corridor,” FRA Administrator Amit Bose said in a prepared statement. “This is just one of many ways the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is bringing about the next great rail revolution.”

Ever since the law passed out of the Senate last summer awaiting President Biden’s signature, Rail Passengers President & CEO Jim Mathews has been pushing advocates and communities throughout the country to sharpen their pencils to be ready for this moment, when we’ll finally get serious about spending historic sums to put dozens of new routes on the map.

“Americans shouldn’t have to endure being in last place when it comes to having a world-class passenger rail network,” Mathews said. “We all know rail can make it possible for more Americans to get where they need to go affordably, efficiently, and safely, while addressing our climate crisis and reducing traffic congestion and fatalities.”

The Association also filed formal comments this year on how FRA could consider structuring the program to meet congressional intent. Today, Mathews congratulated the agency for getting the ambitious and unprecedented program launched on time and ready to receive proposals before the year is up.

“In all of our conversations with FRA, we’ve emphasized how important it is to move quickly and to make a meaningful difference to passengers right away,” Mathews said. “Each time we’ve had that discussion, FRA has agreed and today they’re making good on their obligation. Now it’s time for communities who want new trains to polish up their proposals in the next few weeks.”

The Corridor ID Program is aimed at finding – and funding – promising near-term proposals for new routes under 750 miles, enhancement of existing routes under 750 miles, restoring service over all or portions of any route Amtrak once operated, or boosting frequencies on existing long-distance routes.

As expected, FRA will apply 14 criteria as they begin selecting winning corridor proposals later this year. These criteria are the same as those in Section 22308 of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which are also similar to a lot of the factors your Association has used for years to get projects on to the priorities lists we share with policymakers.

They include things like whether the proposed route had already been identified as part of a regional planning study, is part of a State’s rail plan, ridership, capital requirements, trip times, anticipated public benefits (an important addition to the calculus), the level of readiness of the operators and the community to accept Federal funds and existing support from operators and host railroads.

There were also some really significant new criteria added which Rail Passengers’ staff has supported for a long time, including specific callouts for providing benefits to rural communities, enhancing “regional equity and geographic diversity,” serving underserved, low-income communities or areas of “persistent poverty.” This is all extremely welcome and a great way to move the conversation away from the simpleminded cost/benefit analysis mindset that has stymied so much new service for so many decades.

Amtrak, States, groups of States, entities implementing interstate compacts, regional passenger rail authorities, regional planning organizations, political subdivisions of a State, federally recognized Indian Tribes, and “other public entities” if DOT agrees to recognize them.

Now the race is on to envision new services, and to propose them during a mid-term election year in a way that prevents anti-rail forces from repealing or restricting the money we’ve just gotten approved to make a difference in the lives of rail passengers.

Rail Passengers hosted an in-depth review with FRA program managers early this year aimed at preparing advocates and communities to create and submit competitive proposals under this program. You can follow this link to review the materials and watch the webinar.