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Federal Railroad Administration's Progress Implementing the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act

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On September 14, 2011, the Assistant Inspector General for Rail, Maritime and Economic Analysis testified before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security about (1) the Federal Railroad Administration's (FRA) progress in meeting its Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA) responsibilities, and (2) the challenges FRA continues to face in the expansion and improvement of intercity passenger rail.

FRA has made progress in meeting many of its responsibilities outlined in PRIIA. Most notably, FRA has made significant progress on requirements intended to improve its oversight of Amtrak. However, FRA has yet to complete its implementation of other PRIIA provisions, including finalization of rules that will provide specific guidance to HSIPR grant applicants in areas such as the forecasting of high speed rail projects' net benefits.

Delays in the implementation of certain PRIIA provisions—particularly the final National Rail Plan—significantly challenge FRA's ability to improve and expand intercity passenger rail. Without a final Plan, other PRIIA requirements cannot be completed and stakeholders’ roles are uncertain. Furthermore, FRA has obligated more than half of its $10 billion HSIPR grant program budget for dozens of projects without providing applicants detailed guidance on how to prepare reasonable and reliable ridership and revenue forecasts, public benefits valuations, and operating cost estimates. As a result, FRA cannot be sure that it based these awards on the relative value of competing projects, or that its high-speed rail investments are prudent.