The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) actively supports the development of the nation's intercity passenger rail system. FRA informs and implements Administration policy regarding the nation's intercity passenger rail systems and sponsors passenger rail improvements and services. Formed in 1967, FRA conducted studies and demonstrations, provided oversight and administered federal grants to the nation’s intercity passenger rail system under the High-Speed Ground Transportation Act of 1965 and the Rail Passenger Service Act of 1970, which relieved private rail carriers of their obligation to provide passenger rail service. The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA), which created new railroad investment programs and reauthorized Amtrak for five years, affirms federal involvement in developing the nation’s intercity passenger rail system. FRA's passenger rail activities include:
- Administering federal grants and loans, like those to Amtrak, High Speed Rail and Alaska Railroad;
- Supporting the Secretary of Transportation in his capacity as a member of Amtrak's board of directors;
- Providing guidance and analysis of intercity passenger rail services and high-speed rail (HSR);
The FRA’s Office of Railroad Policy and Development provides financial assistance, quantitative analysis, environmental research, project reviews, research and development, technical assistance, and supports development of intercity passenger rail policy. In addition, the Office studies potential high-speed rail corridors across the country, assesses Amtrak’s operations and performance levels, provides technical assistance for high-speed rail planning, and conducts environmental reviews of high-speed rail projects.
As projects for new or improved passenger rail service advance through the planning stages, technical expertise and guidance is provided for systems, rail line, station, and rolling stock design and also for environmental documentation. In addition, the Office implements the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 as they relate to movement of passengers by rail in the United States.