States Prepare for New Federal Rail Funding
March 18, 2022
The Washington State Legislature passed a transportation budget with $150 million set aside for planning work on the Cascadia High-Speed Rail Corridor. While $150 million may be insufficient to advance corridor development to the construction phase, Washington State legislators are playing a longer game.
The Washington State Legislature passed a transportation budget with $150 million in planning funds for the Cascadia High-Speed Rail Corridor. The project would establish a high-speed passenger rail corridor connecting Washington State, Oregon, and British Columbia. It would provide fast, frequent train service capable of competing with airports and highways, shifting millions of travelers onto energy-efficient trains.
While $150 million may be insufficient to advance development to the construction phase, Washington State legislators are playing a longer game. These funds will allow Washington State’s Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to apply for new federal rail funds enacted by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL). The competitive rail grant programs established by the BIL require a minimum local funding match of 20 percent; that means WSDOT can leverage $150 million in state funds to secure $600 million in federal funding. Lawmakers had these new federal programs explicitly in mind when allocating the funds; the bill stipulates that the $150 million can only be spent if supplemental federal funds are secured.
This is only one example of states positioning themselves to take advantage of these new opportunities. Greater Greater Washington reports that the Maryland General Assembly is looking to fast-track expansion for the MARC regional rail system with the “Maryland Regional Rail Transformation Act.” The bill would authorize the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) to create individual investment accounts for projects identified in the MARC Cornerstone Plan and the MARC Train Expansion of Service Act of 2020. This bill would increase MTA’s ability to access a mix of federal funding streams for transit, commuter and intercity rail.
The question passenger advocates need to be asking is:
- What is my state currently doing to prepare for new federal funding opportunities?
- How can passengers encourage local officials to take advantage of these new programs?
Washington State is a success story that was years in the making. This foundation was laid through years of grassroots advocacy—by Rail Passengers and our members, and by local groups like All Aboard Washington. It also has the support of the business community; companies like Microsoft and Amazon are boosters of the corridor, and Microsoft has committed private sector dollars to help advance project planning. And, critically, local public support for passenger trains has been built up over the years through incremental improvements to the popular Amtrak Cascades service.
If you’re interested in learning how to organize local support for your passenger train corridor, we encourage you to attend RailNation:DC. We’ll be hosting a workshop where you can collaborate with other advocates from across the U.S. on how best to create dozens of project- and corridor-specific working groups among our Council, our supporters, and other passenger and transportation groups. We’ll also discuss how to coordinate national outreach efforts across corridors and region-specific working groups.
"The support from the Rail Passengers Association, and from all of you individually, has been incredibly important to Amtrak throughout our history and especially so during the last trying year."
Bill Flynn, Amtrak CEO
April 19, 2021, speaking to attendees at the Rail Passengers Virtual Spring Advocacy Conference