Rail program

Amtrak The Recovery Act appropriated to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) funding for two program areas: (1) $1.3 billion for capital grants to Amtrak, of which $450 million is for security improvements including life safety improvements; and (2) $8 billion for three intercity passenger rail capital investment programs [Section 501-High-Speed Rail Corridor Development; Section 301-Intercity Passenger Rail Service Corridor Capital Assistance; and Section 302-Congestion Grants].

Capital grants to Amtrak

Congress appropriated $1.3 billion to the Federal Railroad Administration to make available to the National Passenger Railroad Corporation (Amtrak) for making capital investments. The Act requires that Amtrak allocate $850 million in funding to rebuild and modernize infrastructure and equipment. Not more than 60 percent of the $850 million may be spent within the northeast corridor. In addition, $450 million shall be used for security and life safety projects. An allocation of 0.05 percent of this funding may be retained by the Federal Railroad Administration for oversight, and $5 million is directly allocated to the Amtrak Inspector General.

On March 25, 2009, Amtrak released details about its ARRA-funded capital investments. Iowa’s passenger rail stations will benefit from $402,300 in funding, the majority of which will be used to support Amtrak’s Mobility First Program activities.

The Mobility First Program is an immediate-action program to eliminate or reduce the physical barriers that prevent access to intercity passenger trains for passengers that require wheelchairs. The program includes elimination of vertical barriers either through the use of wheelchair lifts or mini-high platforms with bridge plates and related improvements to train access pathways. It entails the design of the station-specific plans and implementation activities including procurement of wheelchair lifts; wheelchair lift enclosures; and construction of pads, walkways, ramps, and mini-high platforms (as needed) at over 150 stations. Upon completion, the Mobility First Program will provide improved pathways between streets, parking areas, other ground transportation, and track-side locations to the train for passengers that require wheelchairs. Also included in the scope of this project is the installation of transfer plates, which are used to bridge the gap for handicapped passengers between two trains in case of an emergency.

Amtrak currently operates two long-distance trains through Iowa. During fiscal year 2008, Amtrak served 64,260 passengers (boardings and alightings) at Iowa’s six stations. Iowa is currently considering expansion of passenger rail service in the state.

Information on how contractors and suppliers can contact the railroad about bidding on projects that contain outsourcing elements will be available on

Intercity passenger rail capital investment program


  • High-speed rail: defined in statue as intercity passenger rail service that “is reasonably expected to reach speeds of at least 110 miles per hour” (49 U.S.C. §26105 (b)(4)).
  • Intercity passenger rail: defined in statue as “rail passenger transportation except commuter rail passenger transportation” (49 U.S.C. 24102(4)); it subsumes both high-speed rail and conventional intercity passenger services. Commuter rail is defined as “short-haul rail passenger transportation in metropolitan and suburban areas usually having reduced fare, multiple, ride, and commuter tickets and morning and evening peak period operations” (49 U.S.C. 24102(3)).
  • Intercity passenger rail system: consists of a group of one or more scheduled trains (roundtrips) that provide intercity passenger rail transportation between bona fide travel markets (not constrained by state or jurisdictional boundaries), generally with similar quality and level-of-service specifications, within a common set of identifiable geographic markets.
  • U.S. high-speed rail corridors: The 10 corridors designated by the U.S. Secretary of Transportation and/or Congress as high-speed rail corridors are depicted on the FRA corridor map. The routes include: California Corridor, Pacific Northwest Corridor, South Central Corridor, Gulf Coast Corridor, Chicago Hub Network, Florida Corridor, Southeast Corridor, Keystone Corridor, Empire Corridor, and Northern New England Corridor. Of the designated corridors, three were specifically named by Congress in law. The other seven were selected by the Secretary of Transportation in a competitive process, which in current law involves an evaluation of such factors as projected ridership, public benefits, and anticipated partnership of states, localities and the freight railroads.
  • Strategic plan for high-speed rail in America: On April 16, 2009, President Obama, along with Vice President Biden and U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary LaHood, announced a new U.S. push to transform travel in American, creating high-speed rail lines from city to city, reducing dependence on cars and planes, and spurring economic development. The announcement included release of the President’s strategic plan outlining his vision for high-speed rail in America. The plan identifies the $8 billion provided in the ARRA and $1 billion a year for five years requested in the federal budget as a down payment to jumpstart a potential world-class passenger rail system and sets the direction of transportation policy for the future.
Intercity passenger rail capital investment

The Recovery Act left the mix of the $8 billion in funding under the three intercity passenger rail capital investment programs to the discretion of the U.S. Secretary of Transportation. As described in the U.S. DOT’s strategic plan for high-speed rail, FRA does not intend to allocate funding among the three programs, but rather will cumulate the funding.

The FRA also intends to add to the $8 billion in Recovery Act funding, up to $9,540,500 for intercity passenger rail planning activities and at least $82,352,573 in facility design/construction funding appropriated under the FY2008/2009 DOT appropriation Acts. Applications for the consolidated amount of funding will be awarded under four distinct tracks.

In addition to the consolidation of funding, the FRA merged several closely-related rail corridor development and capital assistance programs, including the three identified above, and established a new High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program (HSIPR).

See the Notice of Funding Availability and Issuance of Interim Program Guidance for the HSIPR Program for complete details about this program and an initial funding solicitation.

Selection process and priorities

The application process begins with a pre-application. The pre-application is a simple form intended to give FRA an early assessment of the universe of projects and programs, and to provide preapplicants with any feedback necessary to complete their applications (e.g., eligibility issues, most appropriate application Track to pursue, etc.). It also allows FRA and preapplicants to start a collaborative process for ensuring early program success.

Complete applications for Tracks 1, 3 and 4 were due Aug. 24, 2009, and Track 2 on Oct. 2, 2009. Once an application is received, it will proceed through a three-step process. Details regarding these three steps are available in the HSIPR Guidance published June 16, 2009.

  1. Screening for completeness and eligibility (both applicant and project eligibility)
  2. Evaluation panel review process, applying “evaluation criteria”
  3. Final review and selection, applying “selection criteria”

Funding approach

To accommodate the variety of potential applicant goals and stages of project development, FRA adopted a four-track approach in which applications may be submitted. This four-track approach is intended to aid in near-term economic recovery efforts and establish the path to realize a fully-developed national high-speed rail/ intercity passenger rail network. Details regarding these four tracks are available in the HSIPR Guidance. FRA anticipates making multiple awards under each of the four tracks.

  • Track 1 – Intercity passenger rail projects
  • Track 2 – High-speed rail/intercity passenger rail service development programs
  • Track 3 – Service planning activities funded under the FY2008 and FY2009 DOT Appropriations Act
  • Track 4 – FY2009 Appropriations-funded projects

States are eligible to apply for funding under all four tracks. Groups of states are eligible to apply for funding under tracks 1 and 2.

Anticipated award amounts

Awards under Tracks 1 and 2 will be made using a portion of the $8 billion appropriated through the Recovery Act. FRA anticipates making multiple awards under Track 1 under an initial solicitation; however, FRA will not award all of the $8 billion to Track 1 applicants. Funds will be reserved for award to Track 2 applications under the initial solicitation, and like to Tracks 1 and 2 in potential future rounds of solicitations.

Awards under Tracks 3 and 4 will be made using the $90 million dedicated to Capital Grants to States – Intercity Passenger Rail Service in the FY 2009 DOT Appropriations Act, plus the remaining funds appropriated for the same purpose in the Capital Assistance to States – Intercity Passenger Service Program in the FY 2008 DOT Appropriations Act (currently estimated at $1,893,073). In accordance with the provisions of the Appropriations Acts, no more than 10 percent of appropriated amounts in each fiscal year ($9,540,500 of the available funds) may be allocated to Track 3 – Planning, with the balance available for Track 4 – FY2009 Appropriations Projects. These funds require a non-Federal match of at least 50 percent of total project cost.

Pre-application/Application deadlines

Pre-applications for funding were due no later than July 10, 2009. Applications for funding for Track 1 (Projects), Track 3 (Planning) and Track 4 (FY2009 Appropriations Projects) were due no later than Aug. 24, 2009. Applications for funding Track 2 (Service Development Programs) are due no later than Oct. 2, 2009.

Iowa pre-applications

On July 10, 2009, the Iowa DOT (as the lead agency or a partner state) submitted seven pre-applications for intercity passenger rail funding. Iowa and its partners will be competing with applicants from around the country for a share of the $8 billion available in Recovery Act funds.

FRA Pre-applications and Supporting Documents

Project List Number

Lead State

Additional States/Organizations Applying

Project Title/

Supporting Document(s)

Anticipated Project/Program Capital Cost




Chicago-Genoa-Rockford (Route C) or Chicago-Belvidere-Rockford (Route A) Freeport-Dubuque Intercity Passenger Rail

Chicago to Dubuque Possible Routings Map

$60 million




Chicago-Moline-Iowa City Intercity Passenger Rail

Chicago to Quad Cities to Iowa City Map

$62.9 million




Ottumwa Subdivision Crossovers, Tie Replacement and Ballast Undercutting (To reduce congestion on the BNSF line that attribute to service delays of the California Zephyr.)

Figures 1-3

$29 million




Passenger Rail Service Chicago to Des Moines


$106 million (Iowa City to Des Moines costs only)

This cost assumes that service is in place from Chicago to Iowa City, including track infrastructure for 79 mph speeds.




Passenger Rail Service Chicago to Omaha


$291 million (Iowa City to Omaha costs only)

This cost estimate assumes that service is in place from Chicago to Iowa City, including track infrastructure for 79 mph speeds.



Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, and Ohio

Midwest Train Equipment Fleet


$1.219 billion



Midwest Regional Rail Initiative (MWRRI) - Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Missouri, Minnesota, Iowa, and Missouri

Chicago Terminal Limits for the Midwest Regional Rail System (Master pre-application)

1) Chicago Terminal Limits map
2) Cover letter
3) Funding breakdown table
4) Englewood - 63rd and State Streets Railroad Improvement Project and Grade Separation subproject
5) Amtrak Quad Cities to Chicago Service Initiation subproject
6) Chicago to Rondout subproject


$307 million

Preliminary information and estimates in the pre-applications are nonbinding.

Projects one and two in the table above were submitted in cooperation with the Illinois DOT seeking funding for improvements necessary for new intercity passenger rail services on the Chicago to Dubuque and Chicago to Quad Cities to Iowa City corridors. The regular applications for these two projects are due no later than Oct. 2, 2009.

Project three was submitted on behalf of the BNSF Railway. It seeks funding to make improvements that will relieve congestion on the line serving Amtrak's California Zephyr. The California Zepher makes stops in Burlington, Mount Pleasant, Ottumwa, Osceola, and Creston.

Projects four and five were submitted by the Iowa DOT for later funding rounds. The intent of these pre-applications is to express that the next steps in Iowa’s plan for expanded passenger rail service are for service from Chicago to Des Moines and then from Chicago to Council Bluffs/Omaha.

The Iowa DOT is also a partner with the Wisconsin DOT for the Midwest train equipment fleet project  (project six) and Illinois DOT for improvements to the Chicago Terminal Limits (project seven). 

I-JOBS funding granted for application preparation

On Aug. 11, 2009, the Iowa Transportation Commission approved a request by the Iowa Department of Transportation to expend $500,000 from the Passenger Rail Service Revolving Fund for application preparation steps, such as engineering and environmental studies, related to its applications for intercity passenger rail projects under the Recovery Act. In FY 2010, a total of $3 million was appropriated to the Passenger Rail Service Revolving Fund through I-JOBS legislation.


Iowa applications

Five applications were submitted to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) for funding consideration under the High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail (HSIPR) discretionary grant program. The applications would provide Iowa the opportunity to move forward with its passenger rail vision of new and enhanced passenger rail services.

  • Omaha to Chicago Plan – The application seeks $1 million for planning activities along the entire Omaha to Chicago corridor. This planning study will be a major step in development of passenger rail service along this highly populated corridor through Iowa's midsection. Submitted Aug. 24, 2009.
  • Ottumwa Sub Crossover Improvements - The application seeks $17,309,080 for installation of high-speed crossovers to reduce congestion and delays along the BNSF line through southern Iowa, which carries Amtrak's California Zephyr. The California Zephyr makes stops in Burlington, Mount Pleasant, Ottumwa, Osceola, and Creston. The projects involve installation of high-speed crossovers and improvements to the track. Submitted Aug. 24, 2009
  • Ottumwa Sub-Capitalized Maintenance – The application seeks $26,754,574 for track improvements to reduce congestion and delays on the BNSF line, which carries Amtrak's California Zephyr. Submitted Aug. 24, 2009
  • Iowa City to Chicago via Quad Cities – The joint application  by Iowa and Illinois seeks $256,695,000 to support continued environmental impact analyses, track infrastructure construction and improvements, layover facility construction, equipment acquisition, and station improvements to implement passenger rail service connecting Iowa City to Chicago via the Quad Cities. Submitted Oct. 2, 2009 by the Iowa DOT.
  • Dubuque to Chicago - The joint application by Iowa and Illinois seeks $139,700,691 to support continued environmental impact analyses, track infrastructure construction and improvements, layover facility construction, equipment acquisition, and station improvements to implement passenger rail service connecting Dubuque to Chicago. Submitted Oct. 2, 2009 by the Illinois DOT.

Competition for these federal funds was extensive. The Federal Railroad Administration received 278 pre-applications requesting more than $102 billion for high-speed rail from 40 states and the District of Columbia.

On Jan. 28, 2010, Iowa was notified that two of its applications were successful and the state would be receiving approximately $18 million through the High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail discretionary grant program.  The Omaha to Chicago planning study and Ottumwa crossover improvements projects were selected for funding.

The Iowa DOT will continue to work hard to secure funding for additional passenger rail service projects during future funding rounds. The Federal Railroad Administration is anticipating that additional federal funds will be made available for high-speed rail capital projects in FFY2011. There remains $2.5 billion available for FFY2010. This will provide Iowa and the other members of the eight-state Midwest regional rail group with additional opportunities to compete for funding.  

Five freight rail applications were submitted to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) for funding consideration under the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery or TIGER Discretionary Grants. The applications would increase capacity and efficiency on Iowa’s rail transportation system. 

For the latest information about the Recovery Act rail programs, as provided by the Federal Railroad
Administration, visit:

For more information about railroad programs and services in Iowa, contact the Iowa Department of
Transportation’s Office of Rail Transportation at:

Iowa Department of Transportation
Office of Rail Transportation
800 Lincoln Way
Ames, IA 50010
Phone: 515-239-1140
Fax: 515-233-7983

Or contact:

Tamara Nicholson, Director
Office of Rail Transportation
Phone: 515-239-1052