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FRA Top Policy Issues

Rail Infrastructure Investment

Issue

The United States needs to invest billions of dollars to ensure our rail transportation system is safe, reliable, accessible, and ready to support economic and population growth.  Current funding levels are insufficient to support multi-year investments in rail infrastructure. 

  • Intercity passenger, commuter, and short line railroads lack funding for life-saving and statutorily required positive train control (PTC).
  • Capital improvements, including moving rail lines away from residential areas and vertically separating highways and railways, are among the most effective ways to prevent deaths from rail trespassing and motor vehicle and train collisions.
  • According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Amtrak failed to comply with the July 2010 legal deadline to make its more than 375 stations accessible for all riders as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • Decades of underinvestment in passenger rail have created a massive maintenance, repair, and replacement backlog.

Action Needed

State and local governments, railroads, and other stakeholders need predictable, dedicated funding to plan and invest more effectively in rail safety, reliability, accessibility, and capacity.

Background

  • Positive Train Control (PTC):  PTC is train control technology that prevents train-to-train collisions, over speed derailments, incursions into work zones, and train movements through main line switches in improper positions.  To prevent accidents and save lives, FRA is urging railroads to implement PTC on certain rail lines before the statutory December 31, 2018, deadline.  Those railroads are all Class I railroad lines that carry poisonous-inhalation-hazardous material and 5 million gross tons or more of annual traffic, and on any railroad's main line tracks with regular intercity passenger or commuter rail service.  A main line is a line over which 5 million or more gross tons are transported annually.  While the largest freight railroads have access to investment capital—a record $30 billion in 2015—most intercity passenger and commuter rail operators depend on public funds for infrastructure and equipment.  Although FRA provided commuter railroads more than $650 million in grants and $1 billion in loans for PTC implementation, the American Public Transportation Association estimates commuter railroads will need about $3.5 billion more.
  • Grade Crossing Safety and Trespass Prevention:  Approximately 92 percent of fatal train accidents are due to trespassing or motor vehicle collisions with trains where roads intersect railways (highway-rail at grade crossings).  The risk of these collisions grows as highway and train traffic increases and advanced technology leads to quieter, faster trains.  Structural changes, including moving rail lines away from residential areas and vertically separating roadways and railways, are among the most effective ways to prevent these deaths.  Requests for FRA's recent grade crossing safety grants totaled three times the available funds, in addition to the funds available through the Federal Highway Administration's Railway-Highways Crossing Program (Section 130 of Title 23, United States Code). 
  • Rail Station Accessibility:  Amtrak is responsible for making more than 375 intercity passenger rail stations accessible to all riders, pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Other entities (e.g., local governments, transit agencies) are responsible for access at more than 100 other rail stations.  Since FY 2010, Congress has required Amtrak to direct at least $50 million of its annual federal funds to improve station accessibility.  The President's FY 2017 Budget requested $350 million for this purpose.  FRA has been working with Amtrak to use its funds to provide audio and visual public announcement technology, accessible paths between the public right-of-way and boarding platforms, and accessible restrooms. 
  • Passenger Rail Infrastructure Needs:  U.S. investment in intercity passenger rail consists mainly of annual and occasional special purpose (such as natural disaster repair) Federal grants to Amtrak.  Over time, more and more public rail assets have fallen into a state of disrepair.  The maintenance backlog along the Northeast Corridor (NEC)—457 miles between Boston and Washington, D.C.—is about $28 billion, including $17 billion for major bridges and tunnels, which average over 100 years old.  Failure of any of these structures could halt travel on the NEC, which supports 2,200 passenger trains with approximately 720,000 intercity and commuter riders and 70 freight trains every day, on average.  The NEC provides nearly 70 percent of combined air and rail travel between Washington, D.C., and New York City and more than 50 percent of combined air and rail travel between New York City and Boston. 
  • Fixing America's Surface Transportation System Act (FAST Act) Grant Programs:  For the first time, Congress authorized intercity passenger rail funding in multi-modal surface transportation legislation, the FAST Act (enacted in December 2015).  However, these funds are not available without annual Congressional appropriation action.  By contrast, the highway and transit programs have multiyear authority to spend funds.  The FAST Act has three rail programs.
    • Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements ($1.1 billion over 5 years):  For capital projects, regional and corridor planning, environmental analyses, research, workforce development, and training to improve the safety, efficiency, and reliability of passenger and freight rail systems.
    • Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair ($997 million over 5 years):  For capital projects on publicly- or Amtrak-owned infrastructure, equipment, and facilities to (1) replace existing assets in-kind or with assets that increase capacity or service, (2) maintain service while existing assets are brought into a state of good repair, or (3) bring existing assets into a state of good repair.
    • Restoration and Enhancement Grants ($100 million over 5 years):  For operating assistance for up to 3 years per route to initiate, restore, or enhance intercity passenger rail transportation.

SUBMITTED BY:  Federal Railroad Administration
LAST UPDATED:  January 2017

Amtrak Performance

Issue 

Amtrak faces significant safety and business challenges, including reducing human factor-caused accidents, implementing positive train control (PTC), restructuring its financial accounts, and addressing its backlog and future infrastructure, equipment, and station investment needs.

Action Needed

The Department of Transportation (DOT) needs to continue vigorous safety oversight, financial assistance and oversight, and governance responsibilities regarding Amtrak.  DOT's active engagement will help Amtrak successfully implement the more than 30 mandates in the December 2015 Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act.

The President needs to nominate two people to serve on Amtrak's ten-member Board of Directors.  One director is serving as a holdover on an expired term and the FAST Act created a tenth director position.

DOT and the Department of Justice are currently evaluating appeal options in Association of American Railroads v. DOT (D.C. Cir. No. 12-5204), a constitutional challenge to Amtrak on-time performance metrics and standards that FRA and Amtrak issued jointly.  The D.C. Circuit invalidated the metrics and standards for a second time on April 29, 2016, and denied rehearing on September 9, 2016.

Background

  • Creation:  Congress established Amtrak (officially the National Railroad Passenger Corporation) in 1970 to take over private railroads' money-losing intercity passenger rail service.  To implement a restructuring Congress required, Amtrak discontinued service on several significant routes throughout the country.  In 1976, Amtrak acquired the majority of the Northeast Corridor between Washington, D.C. and Boston.  Amtrak also owns shorter segments in Connecticut, Michigan, New York, and Pennsylvania.  When not operating on its own rights of way, Amtrak uses freight railroads' infrastructure, communications, and dispatching systems.  Amtrak also operates commuter rail services under contract with certain states and regional transportation authorities. 
  • Conditions:  Amtrak's rail network consists of more than 21,300 route-miles and serves over 500 destinations in 46 states, the District of Columbia, and 3 Canadian provinces.
    • Ridership increased by 27 percent during the last 10 years.  In FY 2016, Amtrak carried over 31 million passengers and set a Northeast Corridor ridership record of almost 12 million passengers.
    • On-time performance reached its highest levels 2012 and 2013—better than 80 percent on average across all Amtrak services.  By contrast, performance in 2014 and 2015 fell to just over 72 percent and 71 percent, respectively.  When trains operate over freight railroad-owned infrastructure on-time performance is generally much worse than when trains operate over Amtrak-owned infrastructure, such as the Northeast Corridor.
    • Metrics and Standards:  DOT and the Department of Justice are currently evaluating appeal options in the Association of American Railroads constitutional challenge to Amtrak on-time performance metrics and standards.  The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 directed FRA and Amtrak jointly to develop metrics and standards for Amtrak performance over freight railroad-owned infrastructure.  With the resulting metrics and standards in place, Amtrak on-time performance peaked in 2012 and 2013.  Performance then deteriorated after the 2013 D.C. Circuit's decision invalidating them on constitutional grounds.  The Supreme Court reversed the D.C. Circuit in 2015.  On April 29, 2016, the D.C. Circuit invalidated the metrics and standards again and on September 9, 2016, denied rehearing.
  • Safety Performance:  Recent fatal accidents indicate Amtrak needs urgent safety improvement.  On May 12, 2015, 8 people died and 185 others went to hospitals after Amtrak Train 188's locomotive and seven passenger cars derailed.  The engineer had accelerated to more than twice the posted speed near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  On April 3, 2016, Amtrak Train 89 struck a backhoe near Chester, Pennsylvania, killing the backhoe operator and a supervisor and sending 43 passengers to hospitals.
  1. FRA Roles:  FRA is investigating these two accidents and will pursue enforcement actions, such as civil and criminal penalties, if appropriate.  Further, FRA conducts routine and targeted safety inspections of Amtrak infrastructure, equipment, and operations and audits Amtrak compliance with reporting and other requirements.  Through its Automated Track Inspection Program, FRA collects geometry data on Amtrak routes to detect noncompliance with track safety regulations.  FRA is also working with Amtrak on developing system-wide safety risk management plans and programs to improve safety culture, such as analysis of anonymous reports about close call incidents.
  2. PTC Implementation:  PTC is train control technology that prevents train-to-train collisions, over speed derailments, incursions into work zones, and train movements through main line switches in improper positions.  Amtrak expects to have PTC activated or in operation on its owned line segments by the end of calendar year 2017—well ahead of the December 31, 2018, statutory deadline.  Amtrak expects to use PTC before the end of 2016 on its Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, line, and Empire Corridor in New York.  PTC is already active on almost 400 route miles of the Northeast Corridor and almost 100 route miles between Kalamazoo, Michigan, and Porter, Indiana.  Amtrak is dependent on the infrastructure-owning host railroads to implement PTC on the rest of its routes.  FRA will work with Amtrak and infrastructure owners to resolve technical issues as implementation proceeds. 
  • Account Restructuring:  Amtrak, with FRA support, has a major effort underway to improve financial transparency and service delivery by restructuring its accounting pursuant to the FAST Act.  The FAST Act established two new federal grants—Northeast Corridor and National Network—to replace the operating grant and capital and debt service grant.  The Act provides Amtrak flexibility to transfer funds between accounts subject to the approval of the Amtrak Board of Directors and DOT.  This new structure also supports the statutory mandate for Amtrak to stop using Northeast Corridor operating revenues to offset losses on long-distance and other service lines. 
  • Federal Financial Assistance:  Since its creation, Amtrak has relied on Federal funding to support its operations, infrastructure, and equipment.  Amtrak ticket revenue in FY 2015 was almost $2.2 billion, which covered about 75 percent of Amtrak's annual operating costs.
    • Appropriations:  Between fiscal years 2014 and 2016, Congress appropriated about $1.4 billion for Amtrak each year.  Congress divided the funds between operating subsidies (about $293 million per year) and capital and debt grants (about $1,097 million per year), with some flexibility to move funds between accounts.  The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act) provided $1.3 billion for Amtrak investment, and Congress provided less than $300 million in 2013 to repair Hurricane Sandy damage.
    • Loans:  In August 2016, DOT and Amtrak closed a $2.45 billion loan through the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) program to improve Northeast Corridor safety, reliability, and customer experience and increase Acela seating capacity by more than 40 percent.  Amtrak will use the proceeds to purchase 28 new Acela trainsets and upgrade track, platforms, and stations in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and New York City.  In 2011, Amtrak obtained a $563 million RRIF loan to finance 70 new locomotives for the Northeast and Keystone corridors.
    • Authorizations:  The FAST Act authorizes federal funding for Amtrak, rising from $1.45 billion in 2016 to $1.80 billion in 2020.  However, the funds are not available without subsequent annual Congressional action.  Amtrak is eligible for certain discretionary grant programs, which also require annual appropriations.

FAST Act Funding Authorizations for Amtrak, Fiscal Years 2016 to 2020 ($ millions)

FAST Act Funding Authorizations for Amtrak, Fiscal Years 2016 to 2020 ($ millions)
AccountTotalFiscal Year
Total8,0501,4501,5001,6001,7001,800
Northeast Corridor2,596450474515557600
National Network5,4541,0001,0261,0851,1431,200
  • Governance:  Established as a for-profit corporation, Amtrak is an independent entity for its day-to-day operations and corporate activities.  The Federal Government exercises long-term structural control over Amtrak through the Congressional charter, Board of Directors, and funding.  Amtrak's Board of Directors sets corporate policy and oversees management of the company.  The President of the United States, with the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate, appoints nine of the ten directors, including the Secretary of Transportation.  The Federal Railroad Administrator often serves as the Secretary's proxy.  The appointed directors select the Amtrak president and chief executive officer, who is the tenth director.  On September 1, 2016, Charles W. Moorman IV became Amtrak's president and chief executive officer.

SUBMITTED BY:  Federal Railroad Administration

LAST UPDATED: January 2017

Rail Safety Rules and Oversight

Issue 

FRA is focusing significant resources on several major safety regulations.  This paper describes some of FRA's near-term, significant, and resource-intensive safety regulatory issues.  Other regulatory actions are in process, in addition to those discussed below.

  • Positive Train Control (PTC)
  • System Safety Programs
  • Hazardous Material Tank Car Retrofit
  • Electronically Controlled Pneumatic (ECP) Brakes
  • Train Crew Staffing
  • Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG)

Action Needed

Continued Federal leadership and management are necessary to ensure railroads comply on schedule with newly effective and upcoming rules and to execute effective FRA compliance oversight.

Background

Through its comprehensive regulatory program, FRA establishes minimum acceptable levels of railroad safety equipment and operating practices.  Railroads are responsible for operating safely and complying with applicable regulations.  FRA oversees and enforces compliance through its workforce of inspectors, safety specialists, attorneys, and other experts.

Completing the multilayered process to issue a new or revised regulation takes years and involves not only FRA actions, but also departmental review and approval, public comment opportunities, and Office of Management and Budget review and approval.  FRA, like all Federal regulatory agencies, must undertake comprehensive benefit-cost analysis to justify proposed regulations, in addition to technical analysis.  After a new or revised regulation becomes final, FRA develops compliance guidelines, trains its inspectors and specialists, and provides technical assistance or guidance to regulated entities.

  • Positive Train Control (PTC):  PTC is train control technology that prevents train-to-train collisions, over speed derailments, incursions into work zones, and train movements through main line switches in improper positions.  To prevent accidents and save lives, FRA is urging railroads to implement PTC before the statutory December 31, 2018, deadline on certain rail lines, which are identified as all Class I railroad lines that carry poisonous-inhalation-hazardous material and 5 million gross tons or more of annual traffic, and on any railroad's main line tracks with regular intercity passenger or commuter rail service.  The statute allows railroads to apply for extensions until 2020, if they have acquired all spectrum and completed hardware installation by the end of 2018.  A main line is a line over which 5 million or more gross tons are transported annually.    Before using PTC in revenue service, each implementing railroad must receive FRA system certification.  The certification process focuses on ensuring that railroads (1) correctly deploy the technology, (2) establish adequate employee training and maintenance programs, and (3) implement technology that performs mandated functions.  Related documentation for required FRA reviews is thousands of pages long.
    While the largest freight railroads generally have access to investment capital—a record $30 billion in 2015—most intercity passenger and commuter rail operators depend on public funds to pay for or finance infrastructure and equipment.  Although FRA provided commuter railroads more than $650 million in grants and $1 billion in loans for PTC implementation, the American Public Transportation Association estimates commuter railroads will need about $3.5 billion more.  When fully implemented, PTC will cover approximately 60,000 miles of the 140,000-mile railroad network (43 percent).
  • System Safety Programs:  FRA is in the rollout phase (issuing compliance guidelines, training inspectors and specialists, and providing technical assistance to regulated entities) for the August 2016 final rule.  The new rule, while not replacing regulatory compliance approaches, requires intercity passenger and commuter railroads to adopt proactive, systemic programs that identify safety hazards and mitigations.  These programs encourage railroads and their employees to use predictive data to identify specific and general safety risks and then jointly develop methods, processes, and technologies to correct and avoid problems.  Each railroad must tailor its system safety program to its unique operations and workforce.  As the rollout proceeds, railroads will begin submitting their plan documentation for FRA review and approval.  FRA has proposed a similar regulation for freight railroads. 
  • Hazardous Material Tank Car Retrofit:  FRA is responsible for ensuring tank car owners comply with a new schedule and specifications to improve the safe transportation of hazardous materials by rail.  In December 2015, Congress accelerated the timeline for upgrading the fleet, added more requirements, and applied them to 25,000 more cars than DOT's May 2015 rule that required the phase in of stronger tank cars for certain materials and trains.  The new requirements affect about 93,000 tank cars.  FRA inspects tank car manufacturing and repair facilities, loading and unloading operations, and trains that are transporting hazardous material. 
  • Electronically-Controlled Pneumatic (ECP) Brakes:  Railroad industry associations strenuously object to parts of DOT's May 2015 rule that requires ECP brakes for trains operating at speeds above 30 miles-per-hour when transporting 70 or more tanks cars of crude oil (by 2021) or ethanol (by 2023).  ECP brake systems send an electric signal simultaneously to each train car, compared to conventional brake systems that send an air pressure signal sequentially to each car.  As a result, trains with ECP brakes stop more quickly over shorter distances, generate less energy between cars (in-train forces), and are less likely to suffer punctures and release material during a derailment.  DOT estimated industry would incur costs of about $493 million to equip 2,500 locomotives and 60,000 tank cars, preventing 20 percent of the tank car punctures that would otherwise occur.
    The December 2015 Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act) included provisions related to ECP brakes.  First, it requires DOT to contract with the National Academy of Sciences for physical ECP brake tests.  Testing is underway at FRA's Transportation Technology Center in Colorado and the final report is due to Congress by June 2017.  The FAST Act also required the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) to review the costs and benefits of ECP brakes.  GAO released its final report in October 2016.  Finally, the FAST Act requires the Secretary of Transportation to update its regulatory impact analysis by December 2017 to reflect the test results and GAO's report.  If the Secretary does not find that the ECP brake requirements are justified, based on demonstrated benefits exceeding costs, the Secretary must repeal the requirements.
  • Train Crew Staffing:  With train control technology advancing rapidly, including remote control operation, FRA seeks to ensure that railroad train crews are sufficiently staffed to protect employees, the public, and the environment.  Consequently, FRA is developing a regulation regarding minimum crew staffing requirements that reflects the safety risks of different types of operations, such as commuter service and crude oil transportation by rail.  While existing FRA regulations do not mandate minimum crew staffing requirements, current industry practice is to use two-person crews for over-the-road operations.  FRA issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on March 15, 2016, with an extended comment period through August 15, 2016, and a public hearing on July 15, 2016.  FRA is analyzing the comments and completing its economic analysis, before issuing a final rule. 
  • Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG):  FRA hazardous material specialists are monitoring the Alaska Railroad's tests, under an FRA regulatory waiver, of LNG transportation in portable tanks on flatbed rail cars.  The tests will examine safety risks and operational challenges.  Similarly, FRA is working with the Florida East Coast Railroad to ensure its emerging plan to use LNG as a locomotive fuel fully addresses safety and operational risks.  FRA's research and development program also has LNG studies and tests underway.
    LNG is highly energy efficient, relatively less polluting (lower levels of particulate emissions) than other fuels, and increasingly available from U.S. sources.  Railroads are exploring opportunities to use LNG as a locomotive fuel and rail shippers and carriers are considering using rail to transport LNG as a commodity.  Current hazardous material and railroad safety regulations do not provide for the transportation of LNG in rail tank cars or portable tanks on flatbed rail cars.  Regulations governing locomotive fuels were issued before LNG use was widely contemplated.

SUBMITTED BY: Federal Railroad Administration

LAST UPDATED:  January 2017

Rail Corridor Planning and Development

Issue 

Since enactment of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act), the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has generated a framework and support for rail corridor planning at the multistate, state, and local levels.  Previously, U.S. transportation planning generally did not consider rail services comprehensively.

Action Needed

Continued Federal leadership is necessary to ensure transportation planners consider the benefits of rail development, integrate multiple transportation modes in congested corridors, and develop a pipeline of well-considered rail infrastructure projects for future funding opportunities.

Background

For decades, Federal highway and transit programs have required states and metropolitan planning organizations to develop long-term plans.  Extensive Federal requirements and guidance call for transportation planners to evaluate potential economic, community, and environmental impacts of transportation programs; examine past trends and future projections for travel demand for people, goods, and information; and address societal issues such as community values and goals.  Consequently, recipients of Federal highway and transit grants developed the institutional capacity to manage and execute the planning process.  With limited Federal rail funding available before the Recovery Act, no comparable capacity existed for rail planning.

Over the last several years, FRA has developed a planning framework to guide development of high-performance rail networks and services from concept to project implementation.  Concurrently, FRA and others sources have funded planning studies across the United States.  FRA provides technical assistance during these studies and formally reviews, accepts, or approves planning deliverables that use FRA funds or are prerequisites for FRA financial assistance programs.  The follow paragraphs describe some of these major efforts.

  • Multi-State Rail Planning:  Developing rail plans in the context of broad regional frameworks better integrates rail projects with other transportation modes, promotes greater stakeholder involvement, prioritizes limited federal funding, and yields the most cost-effective investments.  FRA is facilitating, and in some cases funding, regional planning projects that invite stakeholder feedback, identify best practices, and develop guidance.
    • In October 2014, FRA published its first multi-state plan for a comprehensive, high performing passenger rail network, the Southwest Multi-State Rail Planning Study.  It supports rail planning and development in six Southwestern states and serves as a model for future regional rail planning.
    • In the Southeast and Midwest regions, FRA is funding efforts to establish regional governance organizations that will sustain current planning work and develop long-term passenger rail visions for their respective regions.  FRA expects to complete the Southeast study by the end of calendar year 2017 and the Midwest study in 2018.
    • FRA has funded a project to enhance FRA's network planning tool, CONNECT, with updated data and new mapping and benefit-cost analysis features.
  • Northeast Corridor (NEC):  This 457-mile rail backbone of the Northeastern United States connects the Washington, D.C.; Baltimore, Maryland; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; New York, New York; and Boston, Massachusetts, metropolitan areas.  These areas collectively—
    • Generate about 20 percent of U.S. economic output (gross domestic product).
    • Have 51 million residents now and will likely have 58 million residents by 2040.
    • Choose rail for nearly 70 percent of the Washington – New York combined air and rail travel market and more than 50 percent of the New York – Boston combined air and rail travel market.
    • Every day on average, support 2,200 passenger trains with approximately 720,000 intercity and commuter riders.
    • Average 70 freight trains daily.
    • NEC FUTURE is the FRA-led comprehensive planning effort to define, evaluate, and prioritize future investments for NEC intercity passenger and commuter rail.  This study will produce the environmental and service planning documents that establish the future vision and enable further public investment.  FRA completed the high-level environmental impact statement in December 2016.
  • Gateway Program:  To address the NEC's most critical capacity constraints, Amtrak is developing concept plans for infrastructure improvements, called the Gateway Program, that would preserve the existing system around New York City and expand capacity between Newark and New York, including doubling peak-hour service to and from Manhattan.  The Department of Transportation is facilitating development of a decision-making, funding, and implementation structure between the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, Amtrak, and New Jersey Transit.
    Some preservation elements of the Gateway Program are underway.  For example, work has started on the Hudson Tunnel project level environmental analysis and preliminary engineering and the Portal Bridge North is ready for construction.  The Gateway capacity components are part of NEC FUTURE and will proceed after the final record of decision.
  • Texas Central High-Speed Railway (Texas Central) proposes to construct and operate a 90-minute passenger rail service between Dallas and Houston.  The privately owned, for profit project would be 240 miles long with speeds exceeding 200 miles-per-hour.  The train would have to operate on specialized tracks that are not compatible with other U.S. freight or passenger service, such as Amtrak, because Texas Central plans to use Japanese technology.
  • To mitigate safety risks, the proposed rail system needs a fully sealed corridor, including grade-separated highway-railway crossings and right of way wide enough to accommodate two tracks and a 100-feet to 125-feet wide access road.  FRA is working with Texas Central on special rules and waivers, because some FRA safety regulations do not address or are not appropriate for such a high‑speed operation with foreign technology.  This Federal regulatory involvement requires FRA to conduct an environment review, which began in 2014.

SUBMITTED BY: Federal Railroad Administration

LAST UPDATED:  January 2017

High-Speed Rail

Issue 

The United States needs high-speed rail transportation to support its mobility needs and global economic competitiveness.  The 2015 U.S. Department of Transportation report, Beyond Traffic 2045: Trends and Choices, concludes that between 2015 and 2045, the United States will add 70 million residents and 45 percent more freight traffic.

Action Needed

  • Predictable, dedicated funding to support strategic, market-based investments in passenger rail service across the country.  These investments will:
  • Fundamentally improve passenger transportation with new high-speed rail corridors;
  • Improve reliability, speed, and frequency of existing intercity passenger rail service; and
  • Develop plans at the corridor, state, and multistate levels for future high-speed rail. 
  • Proactive project oversight and stakeholder engagement to complete American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act) funded projects before the September 30, 2017, spending deadline.
  • Completion of crashworthiness and other minimum safety performance standards for high-speed passenger rail equipment.

Background

FRA has important lines of effort underway to develop high-speed passenger rail in the United States—completion of Recovery Act projects (including the initial segment of the California system and national equipment procurements) and development of crashworthiness and other minimum safety performance regulations.

Rail transportation provides high capacity mobility within a relatively small geographic footprint.  Moreover, rail is among the most energy-efficient modes of travel.  Diverting 5 percent of freight traffic from truck to rail would save 800 million gallons of fuel each year and reduce greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 2 million cars for 1 year.  According to the most recent data available, in 2014, highway and aviation congestion cost the U.S. economy about $160 billion in lost time, productivity, and fuel and the transportation sector produced 26 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions (second to electricity production).

Federal, state, and private planning, environmental, and engineering work has created an inventory of proposed passenger rail projects across the United States that will improve, expand, and introduce new corridor services.  These projects are ready for construction as soon as funds become available.  Without timely funding, project costs rise and transportation challenges grow.

  • Recovery Act Outlays:  Before September 30, 2017, grantees must spend, and FRA must reimburse the grantees for, the $8 billion Congress appropriated in the Recovery Act for FRA's High-Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail (HSIPR) program.  FRA awarded this money and $2 billion of subsequent appropriations to about 150 projects for corridor development, planning, environmental analysis, design, engineering, and construction.  After the 2017 date, remaining Recovery Act funds will revert to the U.S. Treasury and will be unavailable for this program.  As of December 2016, FRA had reimbursed grantees about $5.9 billion (over two-thirds) of the Recovery Act $8 billion.
  • Passenger Equipment Safety Standards:  A critical building block for expanding high-speed passenger rail operations in the United States is establishment of federal minimum safety performance standards.  Current regulations for passenger rail equipment depend on the speeds at which it travels and other factors.  Tier I refers to passenger equipment that operates at speeds up to 125 miles-per-hour (mph) and mixes with other passenger and freight operations; tier II refers to equipment that operates at speeds up to 150 mph and mixes with other passenger and freight operations.  FRA is developing a proposal for tier III, which would refer to equipment that operates at speeds above 125 mph on exclusive rights-of-way with no highway-rail at-grade crossings.  FRA expects to issue a proposed rule on this subject before the end of December 2016.  FRA would analyze comments on the proposal and revise it, if necessary, before issuing a final rule establishing minimum requirements.

SUBMITTED BY: Federal Railroad Administration

LAST UPDATED: January 2017

Project Selection for Positive Train Control Grants

Issue

To prevent accidents and save lives, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is urging railroads to implement positive train control (PTC) before the statutory deadline, December 31, 2018.  The Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act (Section 3028 of Public Law 114-94) authorized $199 million for grants to help finance PTC installation by commuter railroads, states, and local governments.

Action Needed

After Congress completes the full year fiscal year 2017 appropriation for the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), the Department of Transportation (DOT) needs to select projects and award funding.

Background 

PTC refers to communication-based or processor-based train control technology that prevents accidents caused by excessive speed; train-on-train collisions; entering established work zones; and trains routed to incorrect tracks.  While the largest freight railroads generally have access to investment capital—a record $30 billion in 2015—most intercity passenger and commuter rail operators depend on public funds to pay for or finance infrastructure and equipment.  FRA provided commuter railroads more than $650 million in grants and $1 billion in loans for PTC implementation.  However, the American Public Transportation Association estimates commuter railroads will need about $3.5 billion more.

FRA and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) are working together on these grants, with FRA generally focusing on the PTC technical issues and FTA focusing on grants management.  FRA is reviewing the applications and will recommend projects for funding.  FTA will award the funds and administer the grants after award.  FRA will help FTA monitor the grantees' PTC implementation progress.

Grant recipients must provide a matching amount of at least 20 percent for project costs such as:

  • Installation of PTC systems, shared infrastructure (e.g., back office systems, computer aided dispatch systems), or technologies that will lower costs, accelerate implementation, and improve reliability; and
  • Spectrum acquisition or installation of technologies that will eliminate PTC system communications interference, resolve configuration management of multi-railroad PTC software and firmware deployments, and provide host-tenant railroad PTC interoperability and system certification.

FRA published the Notice of Funding Opportunity on July 29, 2016, and accepted applications until September 27, 2016.  Project awards are contingent on the availability of FY 2017 appropriations. 

SUBMITTED BY:  Federal Railroad Administration

LAST UPDATED:  January 2017

Moynihan Station Development Corporation

Issue 

The U.S. Secretary of Transportation is a member of the Board of Directors of the corporation responsible for transforming the James A. Farley Post Office into a transportation terminal and commercial center.  The Department of Transportation (DOT) has awarded millions of dollars to support this project.

Action Needed

DOT needs to continue active participation on the Board of Directors and coordination with project stakeholders to complete the once in a generation project.

Background 

The Moynihan Station Development Corporation (MSDC) is redeveloping the James A. Farley Building and its Western Annex into the new Daniel Patrick Moynihan Station intermodal transportation facility.  It will increase capacity and relieve operational problems at New York City's Penn Station, the busiest passenger transportation facility in the United States.  The MSDC Board of Directors consists of the Secretary, Federal Railroad Administrator, two representatives of the State of New York, and two representatives of New York City (or their designees).  MSDC is executing the project in two phases.

  • Phase 1 construction, which began in September 2012, is substantially complete.  Total project costs are about $326 million, of which FRA provided $283 million.  Project elements include providing access through the Farley Building to an expanded and ADA-compliant commuter concourse, expanding and rehabilitating the underground corridor between the new concourse and existing Penn Station, and installing a state of the art emergency ventilation system for the railroad platforms.
  • Phase 2 will construct the train hall and restore the historic Farley Post Office.  Early design efforts are underway.  MSDC is working with DOT's Build America Bureau to develop financing options for the $800 million estimated cost.  The Phase 2 construction start date depends on funding availability.

SUBMITTED BY:  Federal Railroad Administration

LAST UPDATED:  January 2017

Washington Union Station Governance

Issue   

The U.S. Secretary of Transportation is a member of the Board of Directors of the corporation that oversees Washington Union Station.  Major infrastructure and planning projects are underway that will influence the Station's ability to handle future traffic and passenger needs.

Action Needed

The Department of Transportation needs to continue active participation on the Board of Directors to oversee the facility and infrastructure and planning projects.

Background 

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) owns Washington Union Station on behalf of the United States.  FRA has a long-term lease with the Union Station Redevelopment Corporation (Corporation) to oversee the facility and its parking garage.  In turn, the Corporation has a long-term lease with a property management company for day to day facility management and operations.  The Corporation Board of Directors consists of the Secretary, Federal Railroad Administrator, President and CEO of Amtrak, Mayor of the District of Columbia, and President of the Federal City Council (or their designees).  Projects underway include:

  • Claytor Concourse Modernization Project:  Amtrak's August 2016 Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) loan includes $50 million for this 6-year project.  It will add 20,000 square feet of passenger space, doubling the concourse's capacity for better accessibility, circulation, wayfinding, multi-modal connectivity, and passenger experience in the station.  Amtrak, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), and the Washington, D.C., Department of Transportation are coordinating so that WMATA's First Street Entrance Improvements project occurs simultaneously.
  • North Hangar Safety Improvements Project:  In September 2016, FRA awarded Amtrak a $2.35 million grant for this final design and construction project.  Funds are available through the Railroad Safety Infrastructure Improvement Program.
  • Washington Union Station Expansion Environmental Impact Statement (EIS):  The Corporation and Amtrak are developing expansion and modernization alternatives that would enable Union Station to meet projected multi-modal usage.  As the lead federal agency, FRA will select the preferred alternative through the National Environmental Policy Act process, which will also comply with the National Historic Preservation Act Section 106 process.  FRA published the Notice of Intent in November 2015, and plans to issue the Draft EIS in August 2017, Final EIS in February 2018, and Record of Decision in November 2018.
  • Washington Union Station Second Century Project:  The Corporation is leading a process (with FRA, Amtrak, and private developer Akridge) to prepare a Master Development Plan that will coordinate the Washington Union Station Expansion Project EIS with the Burnham Place private development above the rail yard.

SUBMITTED BY:  Federal Railroad Administration

LAST UPDATED:  January 2017

Updated: Friday, April 28, 2017
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