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The Federal Railroad Administration is accepting applications for projects that expand service and improve safety and reliability.
The Biden administration opened applications Wednesday for one of the most high-profile initiatives in last year’s federal infrastructure law: expanding passenger rail.
The $2.3 billion to expand or establish passenger service on routes outside of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor “will reshape America’s passenger rail network for generations to come,” said Amit Bose, the head of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).
The grants are open to Amtrak, states, Washington, D.C., federally recognized Indian tribes and local governments. Those applicants can also apply for projects using private passenger rail companies (like Brightline in Florida), but the applicants would still be responsible for administering the funds and delivering the project.
A separate round of applications will be available later this year for Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, which links Boston to New York City and Washington, D.C.
Congress included $36 billion in the 2021 infrastructure law for the Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail program, which funds both the grants announced Wednesday and the anticipated grants for the Northeast Corridor.
At least $12 billion of the partnership money has to be used outside of the Northeast Corridor.
“This is one of the two most significant investments in the past 50 years to modernize passenger train service across the country,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement. “Americans deserve excellent passenger rail services, and through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we’re working to deliver it.”
Along with expanding passenger service, the grants can also be used for projects that improve the safety, reliability and performance of intercity passenger rail services and for planning activities, such as environmental review and final design.
Competition is likely to be fierce for the grants, given the rare opportunity to secure federal funding for new service. The California High Speed Rail Authority, for example, plans to apply for billions of dollars of grants through the program, according to its most recent business plan.
In the notice of funding opportunity, the FRA said it would look for projects that advance many of the Biden administration’s transportation priorities.
The notice indicated the FRA wanted plans that would reduce carbon dioxide emissions, promote environmental justice, support jobs “with the free and fair choice to join a union,” support racial equity, and “address deteriorating conditions and disproportionately high fatality rates and transportation costs in rural communities.”
Applications are due March 7.
Daniel C. Vock is a senior reporter for Route Fifty based in Washington, D.C.