In a move that could give a powerful lift to intercity passenger rail infrastructure projects, the U.S. Dept. of Transportation has begun taking applications for about $2.3 billion in a new round of grants from its Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail Program.

In announcing its funding-availability notice, issued on Dec. 7, DOT’s Federal Railroad Administration noted that $2.2 billion for the upcoming round of partnership program grants comes from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). 

The first year's installment of a five-year, $12-billion allocation is for projects across the country, except for the Northeast Corridor. 

Separate Program to Follow for Northeast Corridor 

The agency said it will issue a separate partnership program funding-availability notice for the Northeast Corridor—the busiest intercity passenger rail route in the U.S.—by the end of the year. 

The first year of the corridor grants will draw from a much larger infrastructure law allocation of $4.8 billion for fiscal 2022. That is year one of a a five-year, $24-billion allotment.

The partnership has its roots in a program created in the 2015 Fixing America's Surface Transportation, or FAST, Act. But that version of the program had much lower funding level and a much narrower scope than the new version. 

The earlier partnership program had focused on funding infrastructure rehabilitation projects. In August, the administration awarded $233 million to 11 projects, on the Northeast Corridor and on non-Northeast Corridor routes.

Wide Scope of Projects

The new program also greatly widens the types of eligible projects, including those to expand or launch new intercity passenger and high-speed rail service. Also newly eligible are projects to improve rail safety, reliability and performance, as well as planning and final design costs.

The infrastructure law includes $2.4 billion per year for five years for the national network partnership program.

Applications for the grants are due by March 7.

There are no set minimum or maximum grant levels. The federal funding share can be no more than 80% of the total costs of a project.

Eligible applicants for the grants include individual states—or groups of states—local governments, public agencies and authorities and Amtrak, either as a stand-alone applicant or under an agreement with one or more states.

“This is a historic opportunity to modernize intercity passenger rail and Amtrak service to underserved communities across the nation,” Stephen Gardner, Amtrak CEO, said in a Dec. 7 statement.  “We look forward to working with the FRA and our state partners to provide more trains to more people in more communities.”

The program also will seek projects that adhere to Biden administration priorities, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions and promoting environmental justice and racial equity.