FRA Asks for Applicants for $244M in FY19 Rail Grants

This week, the Federal Railroad Administration announced the availability of $252.5 million in fiscal year 2019 funding for rail capital improvement grants under the CRISI program (Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements) established by the FAST Act in 49 U.S.C. §22907.

The original appropriation was $255.0 million. Per the statute, there is a 1.0 percent set-aside for FRA oversight of the program, a 25 percent minimum set-aside for projects in rural areas (defined as not located in a Census-defined urbanized area), and a complicated* set-aside totaling $7.8 million for projects in Alaska, South Dakota and Wyoming [er §22907(l) (Alaska because it is not connected to the rest of the U.S. rail system, and South Dakota and Wyoming because they have no intercity passenger rail service). That leaves a maximum of $180.9 million left over, at most, for grants in urbanized areas.

However, this is the Trump Administration, and just because the statute (in §22907(g)) says that “at least 25 percent” of the amount appropriated must go for rural grants, that doesn’t mean that the Administration will stop at 25 percent. The Notice of Funding Opportunity leads off by saying “The Department is committed to addressing the unmet transportation infrastructure needs of rural areas. Underinvestment in rural transportation systems has allowed a slow and steady decline in the transportation routes that connect rural American communities to each other and to the rest of the country, fraying the fabric of American interconnectivity. A majority of the nation’s rail route miles are in rural America. Investment is necessary to grow rural economies, facilitate freight movement, improve access to reliable and affordable transportation options and enhance access to healthcare and safety for residents.”

(The NOFO also warns applicants to account for life-cycle costs: “The Department also recognizes the importance of applying life cycle asset management principles throughout America’s infrastructure. It is important for rail infrastructure owners and operators, as well as those who may apply on their behalf, to plan for the maintenance and replacement of assets and the associated costs.”)

Per the statute, projects eligible for CRISI funding include, but are not limited to:

  • Deployment of non-PTC railroad safety technology and rail integrity inspection systems (PTC projects for intercity passenger and freight rail are eligible under other project eligibility categories)
  • Capital projects
  • Highway-rail grade crossing improvement projects
  • Rail line relocation and improvement projects
  • Regional rail and corridor service development plans and environmental analyses
  • Any project necessary to enhance multimodal connections or facilitate service integration between rail service and other modes
  • The development and implementation of a safety program or institute
  • Any research to advance any particular aspect of rail-related capital, operations, or safety improvements

Eligible recipients include: states; groups of states; interstate compacts; public agencies or publicly chartered authorities established by one or more states; political subdivisions of a state; Amtrak or another rail carrier that provides intercity rail passenger transportation; Class II or Class III railroads; rail carrier or rail equipment manufacturer in partnership with at least one of the above; the Transportation Research Board together with any entity with which it contracts in the development of rail-related research, including cooperative research programs; University Transportation Centers engaged in rail-related research; or non-profit labor organizations representing a class or craft of employees of rail carriers or rail carrier contractors.

For an example of how DOT gave out the FY 2018 CRISI grants (from a larger appropriation), see this list issued two months ago.

Applications are due 60 days from the date that the draft NOFO linked above is printed in the Federal Register, which has not happened yet. The due date should be sometime from October 15-19.

*The amount of the AK-SD-WY set-aside is set by statute at “not less than the share of the total railroad route miles in such State of the total railroad route miles in the United States, excluding from all totals the route miles exclusively used for tourist, scenic, and excursion railroad operations.”

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