Q. Recovery Act High Speed Rail Issues
Information on the President's strategic plan for high-speed rail under the Recovery Act can be found here.
Questions and comments for the Federal Railroad Administration concerning high-speed rail can be submitted to OfficeofRDV@dot.gov.
More contact information can be found on this page.
High-Speed Rail Strategic Plan
What is the High-Speed Rail Strategic Plan?
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) required the Secretary of Transportation to submit a strategic plan to Congress describing how the Secretary would use the $8 billion provided to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) under ARRA to re-energize efforts to develop high-speed passenger rail systems in the United States. This Strategic Plan, entitled A Vision for High-Speed Rail In America, was announced by President Obama and submitted to Congress on April 16, 2009.
Rail Program Implementation and Schedule
What programs will FRA use to fund the development of high-speed and intercity passenger rail?
The Strategic Plan takes a holistic view of high-speed and intercity passenger rail development. FRA intends to employ a mix of the three new programs recently authorized in the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA) and funded through ARRA:
High-Speed Rail (HSR) Corridor Development (Section 501 of PRIIA, Public Law 110-432, Division B, as 49 U.S.C. §26101 et seq)
Intercity Passenger Rail (IPR) Service Corridor Capital Assistance (Section 301 of PRIIA, as 49 U.S.C. Chapter 244)
Congestion Grants (Section 302 of PRIIA, as 49 U.S.C §24105)
Each of these competitive grant programs, along with the FY 2009 Capital Assistance to States -- Intercity Passenger Rail Service Program, will play a part in developing high-speed and intercity passenger rail service.
How will funding for the high-speed and intercity passenger rail grant programs be allocated?
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) will not allocate funding to the three specific programs (HSR, IPR, and Congestion) mentioned above. Instead, these programs provide the eligibility requirements for three distinct applicant-funding tracks outlined below. Awards of grant funding will be based on transparent, merit-based selection criteria:
Individual Projects. Grants to complete individual projects that are "ready-to-go" with completed environmental and preliminary engineering work - with an emphasis on near term job creation. Eligible projects include acquisition, construction of or improvements to infrastructure, facilities and equipment. Projects must be eligible under Section 301 (Intercity Passenger Rail) or Section 302 (Congestion), which are further outlined in Questions 6.
Corridor Development Programs. Cooperative agreements to develop entire phases or geographic sections of high-speed rail corridors that have completed corridor plans, environmental documentation and have a prioritized list of projects to help meet the corridor objectives. Projects must be eligible under Section 501 (High-Speed Rail) or Section 301 (Intercity Passenger Rail), which are further outlined in Questions 5 and 6.
Planning. Cooperative agreements for planning activities (including development of corridor plans and State Rail Plans) using non-ARRA appropriated funds. This third approach is intended to help create the conditions needed for future corridor development in order to build out a more fully integrated national high-speed and intercity passenger rail network.
What is FRA's schedule for implementing these high-speed and intercity passenger rail grant programs?
The Strategic Plan outlines a proposed timetable for implementing the passenger rail grant programs that seeks to balance the practical constraints facing potential applicants with the immediate imperatives of ARRA, and the long-term goal of developing a sustainable program for building high-speed passenger rail service. The proposed schedule contemplates two rounds of funding, each with solicitations for the three funding tracks discussed above, and subsequent rounds if funds are not fully obligated during the initial rounds. The following schedule is preliminary and subject to revision in the interim guidance to applicants that will be issued by June 17, 2009:
Solicitation 1.1 - Projects: Applications will be due by the beginning of August, with project selections made within approximately 45 days
Solicitation 1.2 - Corridor Development Programs: Applications will be due by the end of September, with program selections made by the end of December.
Solicitation 1.3 - Planning: Applications will be due by the beginning of August, with project selections made within approximately 45 days (These planning activities are not eligible under ARRA; FY 2009 appropriations funds will be used to fund any selected applications for this solicitation.)
Round 2. This round provides an opportunity for resubmission of revised applications that were unsuccessful in Round 1, along with new proposals - likely including the same target projects and eligibility criteria. If FY 2010 appropriations for high-speed and intercity passenger rail projects are available, they would be coordinated with the ARRA solicitations (as in Round 1). Subsequent solicitations may be added to other future funding opportunities if ARRA funds remain available. Applications during this second round will be due in 2010.
Program, Project and Applicant Eligibility
Who can apply for funds under the ARRA rail grant programs?
For the $8 billion in capital funds for high-speed and intercity passenger rail, the three competitive discretionary rail grant programs each have slightly different applicant eligibility requirements:
HSR corridor program (Section 501) - States (including the District of Columbia), groups of States, Interstate Compacts, public high-speed passenger rail agencies established by one or more States, and Amtrak are eligible to apply
IPR program (Section 301) - States (including the District of Columbia), groups of States, Interstate Compacts, and public intercity passenger rail agencies established by one or more States are eligible to apply
Congestion program (Section 302) - States and Amtrak (in cooperation with States) are eligible to apply
FY 2009 Capital Assistance to States - Intercity Passenger Rail Service Program - Departments of transportation for any State (including the District of Columbia) are eligible to apply
What types of projects are eligible for funding under the $8 billion ARRA rail grant programs?
Grant funds cannot be used for operating expenses. The following types of capital projects/programs are eligible for funding:
HSR and IPR (Sections 501 and 301) - (i) Projects/programs for acquiring, constructing, improving, or inspecting equipment, track, and track structures, or facilities for the primary benefit of high-speed or intercity passenger rail service; expenses incidental to the acquisition or construction (including designing, engineering, location surveying, mapping, environmental studies, and acquiring rights-of-way); payments for the capital portions of rail trackage rights agreement; highway-rail grade crossing improvements related to high-speed or intercity passenger rail service; expenses for mitigating environmental impacts; communication and signalization improvements; relocation assistance; acquiring replacement housing sites; and acquiring, constructing, relocating, and rehabilitating replacement housing. (ii) Projects/programs for rehabilitating, remanufacturing or overhauling rail rolling stock and facilities used primarily in intercity passenger rail service.
Congestion (Section 302) - capital costs of facilities, infrastructure, and equipment for high priority rail corridor projects necessary to reduce congestion or facilitate ridership growth in intercity rail passenger transportation.
FY 2009 Capital Assistance to States-Intercity Passenger Rail Service Program - Capital Projects as defined for HSR/IPR, and 10% ($9 million) for planning activities that lead directly to the development of a passenger rail corridor investment plan
Is rolling stock eligible for funding under ARRA?
Yes. Applicants will need to include a passenger equipment plan as part of any application to improve, develop or initiate high-speed rail service. Applicants are also responsible for ensuring that the rail passenger equipment they operate complies with all applicable safety laws and regulations or that the operator has secured appropriate approvals from FRA in accordance with established processes (e.g., 49 C.F.R. §238.7 related to waivers of the Passenger Equipment Safety Standards, 49 C.F.R. Part 238). Applicants will also need to be mindful of the Buy America requirements of 49 U.S.C. §24405 in connection with equipment acquisitions with ARRA funding. For rolling stock equipment proposals, DOT will encourage acquisition of new, standardized, interoperable equipment that incorporates state-of-the-art safety features.
Are projects located along the Northeast Corridor (NEC) eligible for funding under $8 billion in capital funds?
Yes. While the NEC main line between Boston, New York and Washington, DC is not a designated high-speed rail corridor, and thus not eligible for PRIIA Section 501 funds, projects along the NEC are eligible for ARRA funding under the intercity passenger rail and congestion programs (Sections 301 and 302 of PRIIA, respectively). NEC main line projects must be sponsored by States (for Section 301) or Amtrak (in cooperation with States - for Section 302) in order to be considered for funding. Investments in NEC development are also eligible under Amtrak's ARRA grant and FY 2009 appropriations funding.
Does a project have to be located on a "designated high-speed rail corridor" to be eligible for funding?
No. Only projects eligible under Section 501 (High-Speed Rail) of the "Corridor Development programs" funding track need to be located in one of the ten existing federally designated high-speed rail corridors. Projects eligible under Section 301 (Intercity Passenger Rail), Section 302 (Congestion) or FY 2009 appropriations can be located outside of federally designated corridors.
Is maglev eligible for ARRA high-speed rail funds?
ARRA and FRA's implementation program are intended to be technology neutral. Applications will be evaluated on their merits, including the project's ability to deliver public benefits and mitigate risks (as outlined on Page 14 of the Strategic Plan).
Can the ARRA rail grants be used for grade separations or deployment of Positive Train Control technology?
Grants funded under Section 301 (Intercity Passenger Rail) and Section 501 (High-Speed Rail) in either the "Projects" or "Corridor Development programs" funding tracks can be used for highway-rail grade crossing improvements related to high-speed or intercity passenger rail service. Funding under these programs as well as under Section 302 (Congestion Mitigation) can also be utilized for the deployment of Positive Train Control (PTC) technology.
What is the definition of high-speed rail?
Under PRIIA, "high-speed rail" is "intercity passenger rail service that is reasonably expected to reach speeds of at least 110 miles per hour" (49 U.S.C. §26105 (b)(4)). The FRA intends to offer additional guidance on the interpretation of this Congressional definition in its Strategic Plan. In the meantime, for initial planning purposes, an intercity passenger rail system can be considered as meeting this definition if:
It provides service that is time-competitive with air and/or auto on a door-to-door basis for trips in the approximate range of 100 to 500 miles; and
Its component subsystems (track, equipment, communications, control, and all others) are capable of sustained top speeds of 110 mph or more where the alignment and environmental considerations permit; and
The system meets or exceeds all applicable safety standards
Which segments of the ten existing federally designated highspeed rail corridors will be built first?
U.S. Department of Transportation does not have a pre-selected list of routes to be funded and built. Projects will be selected under a competitive grant process that will be articulated in the interim guidance (outlined above).
Is the Northeast Corridor an officially designated high-speed corridor?
No. Linking Boston, New York, Washington, and intermediate cities, Amtrak's Northeast Corridor (NEC) main line is America's most highly-developed high-speed rail corridor, having benefited from over $4 billion in direct Federal funding under the Northeast Corridor Improvement Project that had its roots in the High-Speed Ground Transportation Act of 1965 and the railroad restructuring legislation of the mid-1970s. In addition, investments in NEC development are part of Amtrak's annual capital program, and often include participation by the commuter rail authorities that make use of NEC infrastructure for many of their extensive operations.
The NEC main line is not a "designated high-speed rail corridor" for purposes of 23 U.S.C. Section 104(d)(2) ("Railway-highway crossing hazard elimination in high-speed rail corridors") nor for programs that depend upon that Section, such as the high-speed rail corridor development program in Section 501(d) of PRIIA (49 U.S.C. 26106).
Will FRA designate additional high-speed rail corridors?
The Secretary of Transportation will determine whether to designate (23 U.S.C. §104 (d) (2)) the one remaining authorized slot for a stand-alone highspeed rail corridor. As regards modifications or extensions of existing designations, Section 224(c)(2) of the PRIIA requires the Secretary of Transportation to "establish a process for a State or group of States to petition the Secretary to redesignate or modify any designated high-speed rail corridors." This requirement has been recently enacted and no process has been established to date.
Who decides what type of equipment may be purchased?
As appropriate, applicants will propose an equipment plan as part of their application to develop or initiate high-speed rail service. FRA is responsible for ensuring the passenger rail equipment fully complies with all applicable safety regulations. Ultimately, FRA may also encourage that equipment be standardized across corridors and services to the extent possible in order to maximize economies of scale, and ensure interoperability and flexibility.
Is the $8 billion ARRA funding directly related or tied to FRA's recent request for expressions of interest in implementing a high-speed rail corridor?
No. However, states may choose to develop corridors based on projects submitted under the expressions of interest, and may choose to apply for grant(s) under ARRA to fund elements of such projects.
Is maglev eligible for ARRA high-speed rail funds?
ARRA and FRA's implementation program are intended to be technology neutral. The costs and benefits of Maglev systems are explored in FRA's most recent report on that topic, "Report to Congress: Costs and Benefits of Magnetic Levitation," September 2005.
What is the cost per mile to build a European-style high-speed rail corridor?
There is no experience in the U.S. in such high-speed rail development. Planning estimates and international experience suggest that the average cost per mile for advanced steel-wheel high-speed rail would be between $30 and $50 million. Factors that have a major influence on cost include the availability of right-of-way, maximum operating speeds, topography, and the extent of elevated structures and tunnels.
On June 17, 2009 the FRA published further guidance about this program in the Federal Register.
More questions and answers about the High Speed Rail Program can be found here.