H.R. 1 would bolster freight and passenger rail

Written by Douglas John Bowen

H.R. 1, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, contains billions of investment dollars for rail projects, passenger and freight.

Passenger rail stands to benefit the most from H.R. 1. In addition to the $13 billion over five years authorized last October under H.R. 2095, Amtrak receives $850 million for capital and $450 million for security. High speed and intercity passenger rail programs get a massive combined infusion of $8 billion. Guidelines will be developed over the next few months, but the USDOT Secretary and the Federal Railroad Administration will be primarily responsible for distributing funds.

Project applicants can be a state or group of states, an interstate compact, a public agency established by one or more states with responsibility for providing high speed or intercity passenger rail service, or Amtrak. Transit, including bus and rail, gets $8.4 billion administered through the Federal Transit Administration, including $750 million each for the Fixed Guideway Modernization and New Starts programs. The Department of Homeland Security will separately administer a $150 million rail transit security fund.

Freight rail stands to benefit as well, with access to as much as $29 billion: $1.5 billion in a new discretionary grants program for capital investments in surface transportation infrastructure that will have a “significant impact on the nation, a metropolitan area, or a region,” and $27.5 billion in highway formula spending that can be flexed to rail.

Through the Federal Highway Administration, there is $27.5 billion in highway infrastructure investment money for state DOTs and local MPOs (Metropolitan Planning Organizations) using formula grants (half via the STP formula and half via FY08 obligation limitation ratio distribution).

At their discretion, states may flex any amount of this funding for passenger and freight rail transportation and port infrastructure projects eligible for assistance under Subsection 601(a)(8) of Section 133 of Title 23, U.S.C. Projects may involve the combining of private and public sector funds, including investment of public funds in private sector facility improvements. States will have 120 days after apportionment, which must be made within 21 days of the H.R. 1’s enactment, to obligate the first 50% of their highway apportionments and until one year after apportionment to obligate the remainder. The federal share of projects is up to 100%.