PASSENGER RAIL UPDATE

Introduction

            Recent news in the passenger rail transportation regulatory realm includes the following:

  • STB Declares Texas Central Will Be An Interstate Railroad
  • FRA Announces $50M in Grant Funding to Deter Trespassing
  • FTA Announces Webinar on Expedited Project Delivery
  • Montana Counties Form Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority
  • Nevada Approves Bond Issuance for High-Speed Rail

Read on for details.

STB Reopens Texas Central Proceeding and Finds that Proposed Railroad

Between Dallas and Houston Would Be Interstate

On July 16, the Surface Transportation Board (“STB”) issued a decision finding that Texas Central Railroad (“Texas Central”), a proposed rail line from Dallas to Houston, would be a part of the interstate rail network due, in large part, to a through-ticketing and transfer arrangement with Amtrak.  Tex. Cent. R.R. and Infrastructure, Inc. & Tex. Cent. R.R. LLC—Petition for Exemption—Passenger Rail Line Between Dallas and Houston, Tex., STB Finance Docket No. 36025 (Service Date July 16, 2020).  As an interstate railroad, Texas Central would be subject to the STB’s jurisdiction. 

This is the second time Texas Central came to the STB arguing that it would be part of the interstate rail network.  In 2016, the STB found that Texas Central was not a railroad subject in its jurisdiction because, despite a plan to construct rail stations near existing Amtrak stations, there were “no concrete plans . . . for through ticketing and no direct connection to Amtrak.”  Texas Central came back to the STB in 2018 with new ticketing and coordination agreements with Amtrak.  Texas Central argued that the new agreements presented substantially changed circumstances and brought the rail line into the interstate rail network.  The STB agreed with Texas Central, explaining that the new agreements with Amtrak “contained several provisions outlining cooperative efforts towards developing and enhancing interstate travel between the two systems, including shared services and joint advertising.”  The STB found the “totality of the circumstances, including a clearly defined through ticketing arrangement with Amtrak and a transfer service that would facilitate a practical and continuous movement of passengers in interstate commerce,” brought the proposed line within its jurisdiction. 

The STB also held that Texas Central could not take advantage of the streamlined exemption procedures for construction and must file a full application for construction and operation the line.  “An application here would provide the [STB] with the additional information pertaining to the financial condition of the application and financial feasibility of the project that would assist the [STB] in considering the transportation merits of the project,” wrote the STB. 

FRA Awards $50 Million to Deter Trespassing on Railroad Tracks

In July, the Federal Railroad Administration (“FRA”) announced that it awarded $528,028 in Railroad Trespassing Enforcement Grants to eleven law enforcement agencies in six states.  In a statement on the FRA’s website Administrator Ronald L. Batory said, “This money will help local law enforcement agencies deter people from taking unnecessary risks around railroad tracks, while continuing the focus on those specific populations that are known to subject themselves to such risks around railroad tracks.” 

Some of the programs receiving grant funding include: Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board Reducing Trespassing on Caltrain Right-of-Way, Southern California Regional Rail Authority Metrolink Trespasser Reduction Task Force, Broward Sheriff’s Office Railroad Trespassing Enforcement Grant Program, Hollywood Police Department Trespassing Pilot Grant Program Operation Fast Track, and the Billings, Montana Police Department Railroad Trespassing Enforcement Grant Program.  More information on the projects can be found on the FRA’s website here.

FTA to Host Webinar on Expedited Project Delivery

On Wednesday, August 26, the Federal Transit Administration (“FTA”) will host a webinar on the Expedited Project Delivery (“EPD”) Pilot Program. The program, which was authorized by the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, is designed to expedite delivery of new fixed guideway capital projects, small starts projects, or core capacity improvement projects that utilize public-private partnerships, are planned to be operated and maintained by employees of an existing public transportation provider, and have a federal share up to 25 percent of the project cost.

According to FTA, the webinar will include “an overview of the EPD Pilot Program and provide an opportunity for potential grant applicants to ask questions.”  The webinar will also cover program requirements, the Notice of Funding Opportunity, the process for submitting an application via the electronic application, and the grant evaluation process and schedule.

Montana Counties Form Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority 

Officials in Gallatin and Missoula Counties in Montana adopted a joint resolution to create the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority last week, joining founding partner counties throughout Montana including: Sanders, Butte-Silver Bow, Broadwater, Jefferson, Park, Carbon, Big Horn, Prairie, Dawson and Wibaux.  According to the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority’s website, its goal is to “create a transformational project for Montana – establishing safe, reliable and affordable inter-city, long-distance passenger rail service through southern Montana.”  Currently, the only passenger rail service in Montana is Amtrak’s Empire Builder, which runs through the Northern part of the state.  Amtrak’s North Coast Hiawatha line previously provided service through southern Montana but service was discontinued in 1979. 

Nevada Approves Bond Issuance for High-Speed Rail

            The state of Nevada’s Board of Finance approved the issuance of up to $950 million in industrial development revenue bonds for the construction of DesertXpress’s high-speed rail line between Victorville, California and Las Vegas.  The bond proceeds will go toward the construction and maintenance of 35 miles of the rail line adjacent to Interstate 15 on the Nevada-California border as well as infrastructure improvements in Southern Nevada. 

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