March 14, 2024 - TRA Newswire -

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) today announced that it has awarded up to $400,000 to the Southern Rail Commission (Louisiana) through the Interstate Rail Compacts (IRC) Grant Program. The program provides new opportunities to entities implementing IRCs to advance multi-state and regional passenger rail service efforts.

Two other states, North Carolina and Illinois also received Interstate Rail Compact Grants. Texas has chosen not to participate in the program even though the state will directly receive economic benefits from future passenger rail expansion.

The Southern Rail Commission (SRC) is the primary mover in establishing passenger rail corridors between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama and New Orleans and Baton Rouge. The SRC, along with Amtrak, is laying the groundwork for intercity passenger rail service between Dallas-Fort Worth, Meridian Mississippi and Atlanta, even though the state of Texas is sitting on the sidelines.

The proposed grant, titled Louisiana - SRC Rail-Ready Project: Building Capacity to Expand Passenger Rail across the American South allows the agency to build it's organization to support the expansion of intercity passenger rail service in the Southeast region. The Southern Rail Commission will provide a 50% no-federal match.

Southern Rail Commission Chair Knox Ross will update attendees at the Southwestern Rail Conference, April 16 on progress with all passenger rail corridor projects. The conference will be held at the Hurst Conference Center in the heart of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. 

“The Interstate Rail Compacts Program funding has the power to shape not only the Southern Rail Commission’s operations, but also the future of passenger rail service across the Gulf South,” said Knox Ross, Chairman of the Southern Rail Commission. “These dollars will support expanded operations, allowing us to dedicate additional time and resources to the development of comprehensive and successful passenger rail corridors. We are extremely grateful to our partners at the local, state, and federal level who continue to champion the Southern Rail Commission, advocate for funding and opportunities, and help our commission move the needle.”

Taken together, the rail networks being advanced through the inaugural round of IRC grants will improve passenger rail service for large swaths of the Midwest, South, and Southeast, including many states and communities that have never seen passenger rail service or that have had previous services discontinued for years.

“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 agreements or compacts passed into law by two or more states that support and facilitate the development of multi-state and regional intercity passenger rail services. Member states of the Southern Rail Commission are Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Texas has not shown any interest in participating and continues to miss out on matching federal funding to join the commission. 

Member states of an IRC can implement the agreement through a commission that is empowered to carry out the necessary planning, administration, and coordination needed to run a passenger rail service. This process allows entities in an IRC to streamline their activities and advance a unified approach to solving regional passenger rail issues.

The IRC Program uniquely allows awardees to use grant funding for administrative, planning, and marketing activities. These include work products that will facilitate an IRC’s goals, such as information technology, accounting, and human resources, as well as obtaining technical staff or contractor support to prepare grant applications for federal programs. Funding can also be used to facilitate operations coordination activities to help achieve better passenger rail services on corridors with shared freight rail operations, and to create and disseminate marketing materials that will spread awareness of the availability of new services. By supporting these needs, the IRC Program helps to ensure that IRCs have the funding needed for non-capital project activities while also being able to expand their organizational capacity. 

Photo credit: Southern Rail Commission