Happening Now

Need For Commitment Emerges As Midwest Meeting Theme

November 18, 2022

By Jim Mathews / President & CEO

When Amtrak released its ambitious Amtrak ConnectsUS vision map about a year and a half ago, I told rail advocates then – especially those who were incensed at how particular routes were drawn or which destinations were included or left off – that the ConnectsUS map was not THE map, but simply A map.

At yesterday’s Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission meeting in Indianapolis, State DOT representatives and delegates appointed by their Governors heard directly from the Federal Railroad Administration about what they need to do to get on the ACTUAL map – that is, the map that the FRA is drawing to help parcel out the $44 billion we helped to secure in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law signed last year.

FRA Administrator Amit Bose said in a keynote address to the meeting that “the corridor development programs must be presented by committed state and local stakeholders as well as regional bodies like this one [MIPRC], so your role as a coordinating entity is as important as ever.” It was a strong signal to towns, cities, counties, states, rail authorities, and tribes that they will have to throw their own political and financial support behind proposals if they want them to win. This is one reason why the Expressions of Interest -- informal and non-binding -- are still extraordinarily important for those who are serious about getting new or additional service.

Wynne Davis, deputy director of FRA’s Outreach office, underscored the financial point during her presentation later in the day on the Corridor ID program: The “level of non-Federal commitment may be modest at the beginning but must grow as a corridor advances through” the program.

I was at the meeting to present our economic modeling work proving that passenger rail really is an economic engine in the community it serves. This is the sort of information that communities hoping to get into the FRA’s project pipeline will need to help sell the value of their new service.

But I also noted during the meeting that as states balk at the need for an eventual financial match for Federal funds, or get cold feet about commitment, or see a raft of new faces in key elected and transportation policy roles, all of us as advocates have a job to do. We need to bolster that support, so that communities hoping for a share of either the $36 billion Federal-State Partnership program or support through the Corridor ID program sustain the political and administrative will to take advantage of this once-in-many-generations chance at kicking off real progress in passenger rail.