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FRA Legislation & Regulations

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and Project Sponsors need to comply with not only the FRA National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations, but also several additional laws, executive orders, and requirements that all fit under the umbrella of the NEPA process. This section lists regulations likely to be covered under the NEPA process. FRA and Project Sponsors partner with natural, cultural, and historic resource agencies to meet the requirements of additional considerations and must establish realistic timeframes for the environmental review of rail projects. The efficient and effective coordination of multiple environmental reviews, analyses, and permitting actions is essential to meet the mandates for:

NEPA Implementation

To assist Federal agencies in effectively implementing the environmental policy and "action forcing" provisions of NEPA, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) issued Regulations for Implementing the Procedural Provisions of NEPA. These regulations were last amended on September 21, 2022 (40 CFR Parts 1500–1508). In 1980, CEQ issued the guidance document Forty Questions and Answers on the CEQ Regulations. Since that time, CEQ has published additional NEPA process guidance and information covering a variety of issues.

FRA environmental review is subject to the statutory provisions for Efficient environmental reviews for project decision-making (23 U.S.C. 139), first established under Section 6002 of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient (SAFETEA-LU) and described in the SAFETEA-LU Environmental Review Process Final Guidance. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, enacted on November 15, 2021, modified these requirements. FRA, in coordination with the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Transit Administration, has issued interim guidance in the form of Questions and Answers, which provides direction to agency staff and project sponsors regarding the changes to the environmental review process.

To address the NEPA responsibilities established by CEQ, FRA in partnership with the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) issued updates to the regulation Environmental Impact and Related Procedures 23 CFR Parts 771 and 774 in October 2018, effective on November 28, 2018.

Relevant Federal Transportation Authorizations

FAST Act: The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act) (P.L. 114-94), signed into law on December 4, 2015, was the first Federal-aid law in over a decade to provide long-term funding certainty for surface transportation infrastructure planning and investment. The FAST Act also marked the first time intercity passenger rail programs had been included in a comprehensive, multi-modal surface transportation authorization bill, authorizing more than $10 billion for intercity passenger and freight rail grants.

The FAST Act includes several provisions to further expedite permitting processes while still protecting environmental and historic treasures and codifying the online system to track projects and interagency coordination processes. Some of these requirements are directed to FRA’s program delivery efforts.

MAP-21: The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) (P.L. 112-141), signed into law on July 6, 2012, promotes accelerating project delivery and encourages innovation through the increased use of Categorical Exclusions (CEs), programmatic approaches, and linking planning and NEPA.

Human & Natural Environment

Rail transportation project development must reflect the desires of communities, and take into account the impacts on both the natural and human environments. Therefore, in addition to NEPA and Federal transportation authorizations referenced above, proposed rail transportation projects are subject to many other laws, regulations, and Executive Orders (E.O.).

These laws cover social, economic, and environmental concerns ranging from community cohesion to threatened and endangered species. The following sections cover examples of these laws.