Audit Reports

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FRA Needs to Expand Its Guidance on High Speed Rail Project Viability Assessments

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On March 28, 2012, we issued our report on guidance on high-speed rail viability assessments.  The objectives of our audit were to:  (1) identify key focus areas for analyses of high-speed intercity passenger rail (HSIPR) project economic viability; and (2) assess the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) requirements and guidance for HSIPR grant applicants on the information they must provide to FRA on project viability.

We found that three focus areas are key to sound project viability assessment:  (1) the elements with the greatest impact on the components of the analysis (revenue forecasts, public benefits valuations, and operations and maintenance cost estimates) include current trip tracking, projections of future travel, and annual train-miles and train-hours operated; (2) the level of analytical detail required for these components at the preliminary, intermediate, and final phases in the development of a HSIPR proposal; and (3) issues central to methodological soundness.  We also found that FRA’s guidance and requirements for HSIPR grant applicants is inadequate to ensure all applicants submit sound, comparable project benefit assessments.  We made recommendations to assist FRA in developing specific, detailed guidance for the preparation of HSIPR ridership and revenue forecasts, public benefits valuations, and operating cost estimates that reflects the key considerations identified in this report.  The FRA fully concurred with our recommendations, and indicated that it will produce guidance for vetting by stakeholders and appropriate technical experts by March 2013.