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Source : Unsplash Aris Union Station
June 3, 2022
Author : Alex Bustillos
Railways have a long history of forming the backbone of America’s transportation grid, a stark contrast with its dilapidated condition today. While a rebuilding of the network will take generations, the new Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) sets aside a good deal of funding meant to begin rebuilding the country’s crumbling railroads.
The list of repairs and necessary upgrades is long. A multibillion-dollar backlog exists, including over 5,000 rail cars, 200 stations, and thousands of kilometers of track, signals, and power systems.
Polls show that Americans want more mass transit systems. With the dual problem of congested traffic and with automobiles one of the largest producers of greenhouse gas emissions, policymakers see a lot of future potential in rail.
As part of the IIJA, the US Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has launched the new Corridor Identification and Development (ID) Program, what officials describe as the first step in a historic effort to transform America’s passenger rail network.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg explained, “we are taking a major step to transform America’s passenger rail network and connect our smallest towns and our biggest cities with great train service.”
The Corridor ID Program will provide a pipeline of ready-to-fund projects, allowing them to be implemented faster and more efficiently. The initiative will be a crucial platform for channeling government funds and technical assistance to develop new or upgraded intercity passenger rail services.
“The Corridor ID Program will help expand intercity passenger rail service beyond the Northeast Corridor,” FRA Administrator Amit Bose said.
The IIJA is providing the biggest investment in passenger rail since the creation of Amtrak, including $1.8 billion for the Corridor ID program. FRA can authorize up to five percent of the available funding for the Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail grants program for the Corridor ID Program.
The law required the Secretary of Transportation to establish the Corridor ID Program within 180 days, providing public entities with a formal mechanism to collaborate with the FRA on proposals to expand, enhance, or restore passenger rail service in their communities. FRA will provide an annual report on the program and its project pipeline to Congress within a year.
The FRA will seek formal bids for the program this year and choose corridors for inclusion in the program based on their preparedness to begin development and legislative requirements. FRA will work with the entity that filed the proposal, the applicable states, and, as needed, Amtrak, to draft or update a service development plan for each selected proposal.
The following entities are eligible to participate in the program: Amtrak, state governments, groups of states, entities implementing interstate compacts, regional passenger rail authorities, regional planning organizations, political subdivisions of a state, federally-recognized Native American tribes, and other public entities, as determined by the Secretary.
The Secretary will consider fourteen criteria, such as identifying the route as a regional or interregional, planning studies, public benefits like congested mitigation, economic and employment impacts, and benefits to rural communities, to name a few.
In full support of the program, Amtrak has announced that “This is an easy, effective, and no-cost way for states and local groups to take the first step and bring more trains to more people in their home states and across America.”