March 16, 2016 - TRA Newswire

The Federal Railroad Administration is asking for interested parties to submit Requests for Proposals (RFP) for high speed rail projects around the country, including potential for fast trains that would traverse the South Central High Speed Rail Corridor and the Gulf Coast Rail Corridor in Texas.

But there is one small hurdle that will keep the FRA from moving forward once project proposals are received: there's no federal money available.

The U.S. Secretary of Transportation is required to ask for high speed rail proposals under the Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act (FAST) which Congress passed last year. However, the legislation has no funding provision unless Congress approves any future plans using pubic means or their is outside private interest.

The FRA filed the notice for high speed rail proposals on March 11 with a deadline of August 31 for submissions.  The RFP's would cover the financing, design, construction, operation and maintenance of a high-speed passenger-rail system operating within a high-speed rail corridor.

A privately financed bullet train project between Dallas and Houston financed by Texas Central Partners is moving along toward construction. A Florida high speed line between Miami and Orlando is scheduled to open in 2017.  With this new renaissance in passenger rail on the horizon it's hoped that the RFP's would spark international interest from private corporations interested in establishing passenger rail service between major cities, according to an industry source. As stated in the filing, proposals are encouraged to be submitted for all sources.

The U.S. Department of Transportation designated high speed rail corridors for study in the late 90's and 2000 that included a Texas-Arkansas-Oklahoma line named the South Central High Speed Corridor and a Texas-Louisiana line named the Gulf Coast High Speed Rail Corridor. The South Central High Speed Rail Corridor was the reason that Texas Rail Advocates was formed to promote the concept of high speed rail to the public and private sector. Other potential corridors that are identified in the RFP include designated high speed lines around Chicago and the Midwest, the Northeast, Florida and the Southeast, California and Pacific Northwest.

The FRA filing for proposals reads  FRA is soliciting and encouraging the submission of proposals to finance, design, construct, operate, and maintain a high-speed rail (HSR) system. Section 11308 of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, Public Law 114-94 (December 4, 2015), requires the Department of Transportation to “issue a request for proposals for projects for the financing, design, construction, operation, and maintenance of a high-speed passenger rail system operating within a high-speed rail corridor.” The Federal Railroad Administration is encouraging interested parties to submit proposals that meet the requirements outlined in this request for proposals (RFP). Based on the proposals received, the Department of Transportation may establish commissions to further review and develop proposals. No Federal funding is associated with this provision and Congress prohibited in the FAST Act any Federal agency from taking subsequent actions to further “implement, establish, facilitate, or otherwise act upon any proposals” submitted under this RFP – other than the actions described in this notice – without “explicit statutory authority” to be subsequently provided by Congress.

A similar provision was included in the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008  (PRIIA) but the U.S.D.O.T. Secretary did not act on submitted proposals.