- The Federal Railroad Administration formally established the Corridor Identification and Development Program last week, which could significantly expand Amtrak’s passenger rail network in the U.S.
- With funding from the bipartisan infrastructure law, the corridor program could add 30 or more new routes and increase service on at least 20 existing lines.
- The FRA will now begin soliciting formal proposals for the program from states, cities and other eligible public entities for routes under 750 miles, restoration of a former Amtrak route or to add trains along an existing long-distance route.
A key part of Amtrak’s expansion plan is moving ahead as cities and states will be able to submit proposals this year for new or added passenger train services.
But Jim Mathews, president and CEO of the Rail Passengers Association, said he heard confusion among many government entities he met with regarding the FRA process. Smaller counties and communities especially do not have the resources or experience of larger states and cities. “A lot of them didn't even understand how you would even go about this,” he said.
Along with states and cities, a group of states, regional planning authorities, interstate compacts, federally recognized Indian Tribes and other public entities are eligible to submit proposals.
The FRA said it received hundreds of responses to a request for information issued in February on how the program should be implemented.
Proposals will be evaluated on 14 criteria, including projected ridership and revenue, competitiveness with other transportation modes and whether the corridor would be integrated into the national rail network. Environmental, congestion mitigation, and other public benefits will also play a role along with expected benefits to rural communities or to historically underserved and low-income communities.
“There's a commitment at FRA to try to get the grant money out to non-traditional recipients,” Mathews added.
Also this week, the FRA published a report on Amtrak's recent performance and service quality that, for the first time, included a public benefits metric. The report showed that throughout the fiscal year 2021 Amtrak served 67,835 riders in areas not well-served by other modes of intercity transportation. Just 12.4% of Amtrak trips included a connection to another route. The corridor program is part of Amtrak’s plan to connect more communities with more trains.
Mathews believes it is important to move quickly on this program, warning that a change in control of Congress after the midterm elections could affect funding. “There is a practical need to show some movement,” he said. “It'll be easier to claw that [money] back if it hasn't produced anything."