More than $8 billion in new federal funding is set to boost high-speed rail projects across the country, including construction of new passenger rail projects and expansion of existing lines.

The Federal Railroad Administration announced the funding Dec. 8 for 10 projects awarded through the Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail Grant Program, which will advance two high-speed rail corridors and fund improvements to expand service and performance of other existing rail corridors.

Funded by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the $8.2 billion will advance 10 passenger rail projects in nine states ready for construction while 69 rail corridors across 44 states have been identified for future investment. The announcement follows the $16.4-billion investment announced in November for 25 projects along Amtrak's Northeast Corridor, America's busiest for passenger rail. 

Agency Administrator Amit Bose said the law “gave us a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to think smart and think big about the future of rail in America, and we are taking full advantage of the resources we have to advance world-class passenger rail services nationwide.”

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said Dec. 7 that “Under President Biden's leadership, we're now making the largest investment in passenger rail since Amtrak was created.”

The largest grant, $1 billion, announced by Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), will construct a new passenger rail route between Raleigh, N.C., and Richmond, Va. along CSX Transportation’s S-Line. The Piedmont Corridor, which runs across central North Carolina from Charlotte to Raleigh, will also be extended north. The new Raleigh-to-Richmond line will bolster the Southeast Corridor and better connect North Carolina with Virginia, Washington, D.C., and the Northeast Corridor, according to Tillis’ office. 

The North Carolina Dept. of Transportation and Amtrak will provide a 20% non-federal match of funding, while the federal railroad agency will establish and obligate the Phased Funding Agreement. The agency anticipates an initial obligation in fiscal 2022-23 of up to nearly $480 million with contingent advancements in fiscal 2024-26 providing the balance of the funds. 

According to the federal railroad agency, connecting Raleigh and Richmond with the 162-mile rail line, for which NCDOT completed an environmental impact statement and other documentation in 2015, would improve regional safety, mobility and connectivity and provide alternatives to congested Interstates 85 and 95. 

The bulk of the remaining funds is set for two high-speed rail projects in California and Nevada. The federal rail agency awarded $3.1 billion for construction along a 119-mile segment of the San Francisco-to-San Diego California High-Speed Rail project and $3 billion for the planned Brightline West project, which would connect Las Vegas to Southern California via high-speed rail.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement that he California Rail Authority will use the funds to purchase six electric trains for testing and service at speeds up to 220 mph; to construct more high-speed rail track and a station in Fresno; and to complete the final design and early works including right-of-way acquisition and utility relocations. 

The next-largest grant after the Raleigh-to-Richmond project is $729 million for the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority's Long Bridge project. It calls for a two-track rail bridge over the Potomac River and other improvements along a 12-mile rail corridor between Richmond, Va., and Washington, D.C. at an estimated cost of $2.6 billion.

In the federal announcement, Buttigieg calls the funding a “historic step to deliver the passenger rail system Americans have been calling for.”

Mitch Landrieu, senior advisor to the president and White House infrastructure coordinator, told reporters the projects are long overdue.

“With these investments, we are creating our nation's first high speed rail systems, expanding communities’ access to passenger rail with new and improved service, increasing train speeds and reducing delays to improve travel efficiency, and cleaning up the air by taking millions of cars off the road and reducing emissions through new all electric train sets,” he said.

Smaller grants will support various other projects. The Pennsylvania Dept. of Transportation’s rail modernization project between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg is set to receive a $143.6-million grant. The project includes right-of-way acquisition plus design and construction of various track and signal improvements along Norfolk Southern Railway’s railroad. Also to be awarded is $49.6 million to Amtrak for improvements at Chicago Union Station that would enable it to reopen a disused mail platform for intercity rail service, and $44 million for another Chicago Union Station project to expand passenger platforms.

The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority is set to receive a $27.5-million grant for development, design and construction of improvements on CSX Transportation’s line from Brunswick, Maine, to the Massachusetts state line to improve Amtrak service. Another $114.9-million grant to Amtrak will support infrastructure improvements to its Malta, Mont., station and on Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway’s tracks in the area. Alaska Railroad Corp. would gain an $8.2-million grant for its milepost 190.5 bridge replacement project.

The federal railroad agency also announced the selections for its new Corridor Identification and Development Program, which supports planning of new or upgraded rail routes. Each project is eligible to receive as much as $500,000. The selected corridors include seven proposed high-speed rail projects, planned upgrades for 15 existing rail routes and 47 new routes, Buttigieg said.

“What we’re doing is creating a pipeline for promising intercity passenger rail projects to help them get ready for future investment,” he told reporters.