ATLP Association Highlights: PASSENGER RAIL UPDATE

Introduction

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

♦   FRA Awards $47.5M to CRISI Grant to NCDOT
♦   FRA Plans Releases Final Rule of Particular Applicability and Record of Decision for Texas Central Railroad
♦   Massachusetts’ Lawmakers Push for State Acquisition of Pan Am Railways
♦   Colorado Receives Funding for Passenger Rail Study
♦   Montana Hosts Virtual Rail Passenger Summit

Read on for details.

FRA Awards $47.5M CRISI Grant to NCDOT

The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) awarded the North Carolina Department of Transportation a $47.5 million Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvement (CRISI) grant to support NCDOT’s acquisition of the rail corridor between Raleigh and Ridgeway, North Carolina from current owner, CSX Transportation, Inc.  North Carolina and Virginia have been considering plans for high-speed passenger trains connecting the two states and beyond for years.  This corridor provides the next step in the process.  Senator Richard Burr was quoted saying the corridor “currently serves as the missing link to the Southeast Corridor,” and noted that the grant will be used to “purchase right of way to not only improve passenger rail access but expand freight services in the state.” 

            More information on this year’s CRISI grant program can be found here

FRA Plans to Release Final Rule of Particular Applicability and

Record of Decision for Texas Central Railroad

            Texas Central Railroad, LLC (“Texas Central”), which intends to build a high-speed railroad between Dallas and Houston, Texas, announced that it has reached two historic milestones in recent weeks.  According to Texas Central, the USDOT has released its final Rule of Particular Availability (RPA) and the Record of Decision (ROD) for the railroad.  The RPA sets forth a regulatory framework for the Texas Central, “establishing a comprehensive set of safety requirements that will govern the high-speed rail system’s signal and trainset control, track, rolling stock, operating rules and practices, systems qualifications and maintenance.”  The ROD is the final step in the environmental review process under the National Environmental Preservation Act (NEPA) and formally establishes the route that the railroad will follow between Dallas and Houston.  According to Texas Central, the RPA and ROD will be published in the Federal Register soon. 

           

Massachusetts’ Lawmakers Push for State Acquisition of Pan Am Railways

 

            Several Massachusetts lawmakers wrote to Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack urging the state to acquire the lines of Pan Am Railways (“Pan Am”).  “The potential sale of Pan Am’s assets and freight rights, in particular along the Route 2 Rail Corridor, presents a significant opportunity for the Commonwealth to make a critical investment in our transportation infrastructure by retaining the use of an important rail corridor and securing Massachusetts’ norther tier rail for future passenger service.”  Reports that the privately-owned Pan Am Railways is for sale surfaced in late June and early July. 

            The eight lawmakers who signed the letter represent House and Senate districts along the Route 2 Rail Corridor and wrote that the sale of the railroad “has sparked great interest from our constituents.”  They cited a recent Op-Ed in Commonwealth Magazine which detailed the public interest. 

            Pan Am currently provides only freight service but Amtrak uses the lines for its Downeaster service between Brunswick, Maine and Boston, Massachusetts.  

Colorado Receives Federal Funding for Intercity Passenger Rail Study

A federal grant awarded to Colorado for rail infrastructure and safety improvements includes over half a million dollars to study the possibility of a 180-mile passenger rail corridor between Pueblo and Fort Collins, Colorado.  The Front Range Passenger Rail Project would serve the Front Range communities from Fort Collins to Pueblo and run on tracks owned by BNSF railroad.  The grant will go towards the completion of an alternative analysis and service planning analyses for the line.  An earlier study predicted that the rail line could service 2.9 million people annually and concluded that “demand exists for passenger rail, both for commuters and for recreation and special events, with additional benefits including reductions in emissions and vehicle miles traveled.”

Montana Hosts Virtual Rail Passenger Summit 

On September 17, over 300 people attended a virtual summit to discuss the return of passenger rail service to southern Montana.  Southern Montana has not had passenger rail service since Amtrak’s Hiawatha service ended in 1979. 

The summit was hosted by Missoula County and featured speakers from the Passenger Rail Association, Amtrak, Transportation for America, as well as Montana legislators and other interested parties.  The summit focused on ways to garner public and legislative support for passenger rail funding.  The participants also looked at the best practices of the Southern Rail Commission and groups supporting high-speed rail in the Pacific Northwest.  The summit can be viewed in its entirety here

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