Posts Tagged ‘Federal Railroad Administration’

Budget Proposal Slashes Amtrak by More than 50%

February 13, 2020

The Trump administration this week released its federal fiscal year budget proposal and to no one’s surprise it has proposed slashing Amtrak funding by more than half.

The budget proposal also recommends funding cuts to rail-related transportation of nearly $900 million when compared with the last two budget cycles, most of which would be achieved by appropriating less money for federal agencies that oversee rail transportation activities.

For Amtrak, the administration has proposed cutting spending on the Northeast Corridor from $700 million to $325 million.

Support for the long-distance service would fall from $1.3 billion to $611 million with those trains being phased over in the next few years.

The budget document released by the U.S. Department of Transportation calls for funding of a vaguely defined account that is meant to transition long-distance routes into corridor services of between 100 to 500 miles that would be funded in part by state and local governments.

These grants would be known as “National Network Transformation Grants — Long Distance Routes” and would receive $550 million.

Amtrak’s overall funding will decline from $2 billion in the 2020 budget to $1.5 billion in 2021.

The focus on corridor services would be in line with the vision for Amtrak that the carrier’s president, Richard Anderson, and its senior executive vice president, Stephen Gardner, have been talking up for more than a year.

Indeed the DOT budget document uses language similar to that used by Anderson and Gardner in saying that long-distance routes have outlived their usefulness and Amtrak needs to transform into a corridor-oriented operation linking urban centers.

“Long-distance routes continually underperform, suffering from low ridership and large operating losses of roughly half a billion dollars annually,” the DOT budget document states. “Amtrak trains inadequately serve many rural markets while not serving many growing metropolitan areas at all.”

This of course raises the question of whether DOT is parroting Anderson and Gardner or whether the Amtrak executives are mouthing what DOT has told them to say.

DOT said it would release later this year details about the long-distance route transformation program as part of its recommendation for a re-authorization of the FAST Act.

The administration’s budget proposal also recommends $13.2 billion for public transportation, a $303 million increase from the FY2020 enacted level, but would reduce passenger-rail grant programs by $712 million for a total of $1.8 billion.

The budget proposes a 10-year, $810 billion plan for surface transportation reauthorization to replace the FAST Act, which expires Sept. 30. That is $75 billion above the current authorized level.

Public transit would receive $155.4 billion over the next 10 years. The administration stated that it would submit a comprehensive surface transportation reauthorization proposal in the coming months, APTA officials said in a legislative update.

The Federal Railroad Administration would receive just under $2 billion compared with nearly $2.8 billion budgeted in 2020.

FRA Extends Deadline for Passenger Rail Grants

December 24, 2019

The deadline for a passenger rail grant program overseen by the Federal Railroad Administration has been extended to Feb. 5, 2020.

FRA had $24 million in Restoration and Enhancement Grants for “initiating, restoring, or enhancing intercity passenger rail service.”

The money was authorized by the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act.

The deadline had been Jan. 5, 2020, but was extended by a month after another $1.92 million was authorized by Congress for fiscal year 2020.

That brings the total amount of available grant money for the program to $26.3 million.

Funding in the program can be used for staffing, fuel, electricity, station expenses, rolling stock lease payments, routine planned maintenance, host railroad access costs, train yard operation and administrative costs.

Grants may be awarded to states (individually or collectively), cities and other government entities, Amtrak and other intercity passenger rail companies.

By law the FRA must give priority by application type, including those supporting projects that “foster economic development, expand transportation options in under served communities, and restore former Amtrak routes.”

Mobile Resolution To Come With Contingencies

December 24, 2019

The resolution that the city council of Mobile, Alabama, is expected to consider on Dec. 31 contains a clause that would revoke the city’s financial support of a proposed expansion of Amtrak service along the Gulf Coast if certain issues are to arise.

The city will consider committing $3 million toward the operating cost of the service, which is envisioned to begin in 2023 between New Orleans and Mobile.

The action comes as local and state governments along the proposed route face a Jan. 6 deadline to commit matching funds to a federal grant awarded earlier this year to get the service started.

The states of Mississippi and Louisiana have agreed to contribute their share of the funding but Alabama has balked.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has raised concerns that the Amtrak route would adversely affect rail operations at the Port of Mobile.

Mobile city council members will vote on a letter of intent, but one council member has asked what happens after the first three years of the city’s commitment to fund operations of the route.

Other questions that have arisen include the cost of building a station in Mobile and how infrastructure improvements from the Mississippi border to Mobile will be handled.

Most of the operating costs of the route are expected to be paid for by a federal Restoration and Enhancement grant.

The concerns of Gov. Ivey have also been echoed by Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson and State Port Authority CEO Jimmy Lyons.

Wiley Blankenship, president and CEO of the Coastal Alabama Partnership and a member of the Southern Rail Commission  said the location of the Mobile station at the Brookley Aeroplex, instead of downtown would harm commercial activity at the port.

“The Port is a priority for me above passenger rail, ”he said. “If I felt that operating the train at Brookley would jeopardize the Port, I would not be standing here today. I would ask the governor to remove me from the office, and that I cannot serve.”

FRA Again Seeking to Block California High-Speed Work

December 24, 2019

The Federal Railroad Administration is seeking to block efforts by the California High-Speed Rail Authority to reach an agreement that that would allow for construction of tracks and infrastructure of it 119-mile line between Bakersfield and Merced in the Central Valley.

The FRA wrote to the Authority on Dec. 9 to express its disapproval of a request for proposals.

“It is premature for CHSRA to undertake another major design-build contract,” wrote FRA project manager Juliana Shu Barnes. “The current (construction contracts) continue to face significant and continuing delays building the necessary civil infrastructure.”

The Trump Administration had earlier withheld $929 million in federal grant funding for the high-speed project. That funding had earlier been approved by the FRA.

The administration is also seeking to claw back $2.6 billion in federal funding that has already been distributed for work on the high-speed project.

In response, CAHSRA CEO Brian Kelly blasted the FRA for a faulty analysis and saying it has failed to review materials California has already provided.

“[Your objection] is based on misunderstandings and your agency’s own inaction, which does not provide a good faith basis for interfering in this authority’s efforts to meet the timelines in our federal grant agreements,” Kelly wrote to the FRA. “As you know, or should know, the installation of track on the 119-mile segment is a deliverable under our federal funding agreements with your agency.”

Kelly’s letter said construction agreements need to be completed by Dec. 31, 2022, and the Authuority does not “have the luxury of inaction on this issue.”

The dispute is seen as likely to wind up being resolved in court.

Illinois Gets Extension to Use Grant to Develop Route

November 8, 2019

The U.S. Department of Transportation has extended the deadline for the expenditure of a grant awarded to the Illinois Department of Transportation in 2010 to help launch an Amtrak route between Chicago and the Quad Cities region of Illinois and Iowa.

The grant, which was awarded by the Federal Railroad Administration, received a multiyear extension.

The project has been delayed multiple times due to numerous issues.

Plans are to operate the route within Illinois on BNSF and Iowa Interstate tracks from Chicago Union Station to a multimodal station in Moline.

A major source of delay occurred during the administration of former Gov. Bruce Rauner, who “paused” development of the route after taking office in 2015.

Rauner was defeated in the 2018 election by J. B. Pritzker who after becoming governor earlier this year renewed the state’s support of the route by providing $225 million in state funding.

Additional delays have occurred as IDOT and the Iowa Interstate have negotiated the project’s scope and infrastructure upgrades needed to convert the former Rock Island Railroad tracks for passenger service. Those negotiations remain ongoing.

In the meantime the City of Moline has converted a downtown warehouse into a multimodal transportation center and hotel.

The original grant awarded by the FRA was for $177 million.

FRA Has Grants for Passenger Service

November 7, 2019

Grants to launch, restore or enhance intercity rail passenger service are available from the Federal Railroad Administration as part of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act.

The agency said it is taking applications for $24 million in grant funding that can be applied to operating assistance including staffing, administrative costs, host-railroad access costs, station expenses, and lease payments on rolling stock, among other uses.

Amtrak and other intercity passengers are eligible to apply, as are states, groups of states, cities, and other governmental agencies.

“We’re encouraging applicants to leverage federal Restoration and Enhancement grants to support large-scale, intercity passenger rail improvements,” FRA Administrator Ronald L. Batory said in a statement.

The official Notice of Funding Opportunity describes a list of projects that will receive funding priority in funding including “applications that …restore service over routes formerly operated by Amtrak, including routes in the Gulf Coast region between New Orleans, Louisiana, and Orlando, Florida.”

FRA Has Mag-Lev Grant Funds Available

October 30, 2019

The Federal Railroad Administration has published a notice of grant funding opportunity for magnetic levitation deployment projects.

The notice, which was published in the Federal Register, provided information about how to seek $24 million in grant funding for eligible projects under the federal Magnetic Levitation Technology Deployment Program.

That includes $10 million appropriated by Congress in 2019 and an additional $14 million in funds authorized by Congress in 2008 under sections of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act, known by the acronym SAFETEA-LU.

Applicants for the $14 million in funding must be focused on projects in Pittsburgh, and  Baltimore-Washington and Atlanta-Chattanooga corridors.
The $10 million in grants funds are not limited to those three maglev projects.

FRA OKs Virginia Project Environmental Study

September 11, 2019

An environmental impact statement for the proposed higher-speed intercity passenger-rail project between Washington and Richmond, Virginia, has been approved by the Federal Railroad Administration .

FRA approval completes the EIS study process and makes the project eligible for federal funding to continue planning the project.

The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation won a $44 million federal grant in 2014 that paid for nearly 80 percent of environmental study.

Other funding was provided by the state and CSX. The latter owns most of the 123-mile corridor that hosts trains of Amtrak and Virginia Railway Express.

Virginia transportation officials have said that once completed, the work will increase passenger train speed and capacity parallel to the congested Interstate 95 corridor, as well as accommodating future freight-rail growth opportunities at the Port of Virginia in Norfolk.

FRA Approves Texas Central RPA Request

September 10, 2019

The Federal Railroad Administration has approved an application by Texas Central seeking a rule of particular applicability.

Texas Central will be able to use this to govern its system and operations once it begins high-speed rail service between Dallas and Houston.

“The FRA’s action on the RPA marks a major milestone in our quest to bring a transformative mobility solution, while minimizing impact on the environment and land use, as opposed to other options,” said Texas Central Chief Executive Officer Carlos Aguilar in a statement. “We will meet or exceed all requirements the FRA mandates, to ensure we have the safest high-speed rail system in the world.”

Texas Central asked the FRA for the RPA in April 2016.

Officials have said the system they plan to construct will be modeled after Central Japan Railway’s Railway’s Tokaido Shinkansen technology.

The RPA is the first the FRA has ever issued for rail operations above 150 miles per hour.

Public Hearing Set on Long Bridge Project in Washington

September 7, 2019

Public comment is being sought on a proposed project to rebuild the Long Bridge over the Potomac River between Washington and Virginia.

The bridge is used by Amtrak, Virginia Railway Express, Norfolk Southern and CSX and is the only railroad crossing of the river between the district and Virginia.

The Federal Railroad Administration and District of Columbia Department of Transportation recently completed a draft environmental impact statement regarding the project.

A public hearing will be held on Oct. 22 and comments are being accepted through Oct. 28.

The bridge is owned by CSX and the project will involve either rebuilding or replacing the two-track bridge, which was built in 1904.

The study examined a 1.8-mile section between RO Interlocking near Long Bridge Park in Arlington, Virginia, and the L’Enfant Interlocking near 10th Street SW in Washington.