Happening Now

Wheels of Progress: Washington Union, Interstate Rail Compacts

March 15, 2024

Wheels of Progress: Washington Union Station, Interstate Rail Compact Grants, and Amtrak Fiscal Year 2025 Report to Congress

Washington Union Station Clears Environmental Hurdle

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) issued a combined Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS)/Record of Decision (ROD) for the Washington Union Station Expansion Project on March 12th, clearing a major regulatory hurdle in the effort to expand and modernize the historic train station in Washington, D.C.

This week’s agreement clears the way for final design to advance, the final step before construction can begin. The $9.8 billion upgrade to Washington Union Station will include a rebuilt and expanded Claytor Concourse, along with added passenger concourses; new points of access and egress to and from train platforms, along with wider platforms; expanded track capacity; better integration of the station with the surrounding street network; upgraded connections to local transit services; and improved ADA access. The project will also deck over sections of track to create new real estate and public spaces, and improve mobility along the city’s H Street corridor.

One of the key decisions in the selected alternative is a below ground parking facility that represents a 65% reduction in parking capacity compared to the 2020 draft proposal, and 77% reduction compared to the existing garage.

FRA Awards $900,000 in Planning and Development Grants for Interstate Rail Compacts

The FRA also announced on March 14th that it has awarded $900,000 to three entities through the Interstate Rail Compacts (IRC) Grant Program. Created by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the IRC Program supports the work of regional rail authorities, which are uniquely positioned to develop intercity passenger rail networks across state and county political jurisdictions.

“As funding from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law advances transformative rail projects in communities around the country, FRA is supporting all elements needed for new passenger rail services, from planning and development to the implementation of service,” said FRA Administrator Amit Bose. “The Interstate Rail Compacts Grant Program fills a vital need by providing entities implementing interstate rail compacts with the resources to build up an organizational and human infrastructure for the fluid operation of new services that will meet the needs of local communities.”

IRCs are an agreement between two-or-more states to create an entity that will handle planning, administration, and coordination required to develop and operate interstate passenger rail service. All IRC Program applicants are required to provide a 50% local funding match. The three recipients of this year's grants are:

  • Illinois – MIPRC Expansion Project (Up to $300,000) - Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission (MIPRC): The proposed grant involves activities such as administration, promotion of intercity passenger rail operations, and preparation of competitive federal grant program applications. The project will help MIPRC increase efforts to advocate for and support the development and implementation of a robust passenger rail network in the Midwest region.
  • Louisiana – SRC Rail-Ready Project: Building Capacity to Expand Passenger Rail across the American South (Up to $400,000) - Southern Rail Commission (SRC): The proposed grant involves activities such as administration, promotion of intercity passenger rail operations, operations coordination, and preparation of competitive federal grant program applications. The project will help the SRC build its organizational capacity to continue to support the expansion of intercity passenger rail service in the Southeast region.
  • North Carolina – VA-NC Compact Administration & Southeast Rail Network Analysis Project (Up to $200,000) - North Carolina DOT on behalf of the Virginia – North Carolina Interstate High-Speed Rail Compact Commission (VA-NC HSR Compact): The proposed grant involves administration and system planning activities to complete the Southeast Rail Network Analysis. The project will help advance efforts to improve the fluidity of the Southeast rail network to benefit both passenger and freight rail.

Amtrak Releases General and Legislative Annual Report & Fiscal Year 2025 Grant Request

Amtrak released its annual report to Congress this week, which highlights that ridership has almost returned to pre-pandemic levels, and that it expects to exceed it prior ridership record in 2024.

“In Fiscal Year (FY) 2023, Amtrak’s ridership returned dramatically, with 28.5 million customers counting on us to safely take them to one of 524 destinations across the United States and Canada—from small towns like Havre, Montana (population: 9,362) to huge metropolises like greater New York City (population: 20.1 million),” wrote Amtrak CEO Stephen Gardner. “This level of ridership is significant on two fronts: it represents a 25% increase over the previous fiscal year, and was equal to about 89% of pre-COVID-19 levels. Excitingly, monthly ridership was at or above pre-pandemic levels as we completed the final months of the year and this trend has continued so far in FY 24.”

It also provided details on nearly $2.9 billion in capital projects funded by the IIJA and Congressional appropriations—with plans to dramatically ramp up investments in the coming years.

Other highlights include:

  • Workforce — Amtrak hired more than 4,800 new employees, excluding internal hires (up from 3,700 in FY 22), bringing its total active workforce at year-end to more than 21,600 people.
  • Investment Ramp-Up Coming: The FRA and U.S. Department of Transportation obligated or contingently obligated almost $9.7 billion to Amtrak during Calendar Year 2023, most of which was provided by the IIJA.