The FY 2022 CRISI Grants were announced on September 25, 2023. Short lines projects did exceptionally well, representing 47 of 70 awards, and more than half of the available $1.44 billion in funding.
Did you know? If you have received an award, in some cases you may apply for reimbursement of costs incurred between the time the award was announced and when the grant agreement is executed and funding begins. This is called Pre-Award Authority. Click here for responses to frequently asked questions from the FRA on this topic.
If you applied for a grant in the FY 2022 cycle and did not receive one, the Federal Railroad Administration is available to answer questions and to review your application. Please contact FRA-NOFO-Support@dot.gov.
ASLRRA’s Member Discount Program Preferred Providers offer grant writing services.
It is important to verify applicant eligibility early. Verify your plan against the eligibility criteria from previous cycle NOFO section C.1 and consult with the FRA early if there are eligibility questions.
Before pursuing funding through CRISI, the applying entity must be properly registered in two federal systems: The System for Award Management (SAM) and grants.gov. Grant applicants must first be set up in SAM to register in grants.gov and all recipients of federal funds must be registered in SAM. All application materials are submitted through grants.gov.
Begin Work with Vendors Early
Demand is now hitting the railroad supplier market for goods and services in support of applications and project execution for funding for multiple major programs in the railroad space. All of this is competing for the limited pools of experienced talent that can provide professional services. Vendors of materials, contracting services and equipment do not have infinite capacity, so if you wait until the NOFO opens to reach out to this community, you may have difficulty getting what you need in the time available!
Some short line projects seeking federal CRISI funds will involve getting the permission of outside parties, so identifying and working on these tasks early in the grant application writing process is important.
Public Partner Requirements
If planning to apply through an eligible public entity or seek matching funding from a public entity, learn their process steps and timelines for those processes. If, for some reason, you must work through a public partner’s engineering and project management process, that can be a complex and slow process.
Other Railroad Requirements
A common scenario for short lines is when a Class I freight railroad must approve the proposed grant-funded project. Short lines should review their lease agreements closely, as leases can include clauses specific to pursuit and use of public grant funding. Short lines should also presume that Class I permission will be required if the proposed project could affect the Class I’s property or operations. Projects that touch the property or right-of-way of another railroad, such as adding a connection, will always require their permission, and typically formal review by their engineering department.
The fact that a Class I won’t contribute any monetary resources to the proposed CRISI grant-funded project does not eliminate the need to meet all their legal and operational coordination requirements. The FRA considers agreements with or permissions from Class I partners to be an area of potentially significant risk when they evaluate CRISI grant applications and therefore will look closely at applications for projects that could require such agreements or coordination.
Advocacy and Letters of Support
Consider finding regional advocates, such as customers, businesses, or elected officials, who could help write letters of support touting your project’s importance to FRA. If you think you will seek a letter of support, or perhaps direct advocacy from a stakeholder, give them an early warning. While letters of support can be transmitted after the application submittal date, it is much preferred that they be submitted as an attachment to your application.
Applicants are required to provide three foundational documents as attachments: a project statement of work (SOW); a schedule; and a budget. Completing these three documents at the beginning of the grant writing process reduces the risk of inconsistent information across these three documents. Preparing documents early will also assist with the preparation of other required application elements.
FRA guidance directs grant applicants to templates for three required attachments for their capital grant programs: the Statement of work (SOW), Schedule, and Budget. Applicants should use these templates as requested by FRA, ideally without modifying the language and structure of the documents as provided. Applicants should insert the requested data where indicated, and as indicated.
Complete Advance Engineering and Design Tasks
Some projects require significant professional engineering and design work. Get these resources in place and their work started as early as possible. The farther you advance your engineering, the less risk associated with your project and higher readiness, which are important competitive factors in the eyes of the agency reviewers.
Understand Environmental Risks
Familiarize yourself early on with the FRA’s categorical exclusions (CEs) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Also try to determine early if you may require a federal permit for your project, such as from the US Army Corps of Engineers.
Identify Any Land Rights Issues
Risk around land acquisition can be a major red flag for reviewers. It is important to determine early in the grant writing process if any land acquisition or rights to land will be required to carry out the project.
Effective communication of the transportation analysis supporting a CRISI application is fundamental to making the case for the project. Most CRISI applications will have a forecast for traffic of some type, often in the form of revenue carloads transported over twenty years, sometimes more, from the expected completion of construction.
It is surprisingly easy to provide an excellent data-driven transportation and benefit-cost analysis in the application attachments but neglect to communicate that information well in the grant application narrative. The narrative document must bring forward all important data and findings, including at least summary versions of traffic forecasts and scenarios.
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) hosted an overview on September 15, 2022 covering How To Apply and Best Practices in the areas of: Project Narrative, Statement of Work, Benefit-Cost Analysis and Environmental Readiness.
In addition, recorded webinars and presentation materials are available for each of the Office Hours hosted in 2022:
October 20, 2022 — Efficient Locomotives, Climate Initiatives and Workforce Development
October 27, 2022 — Project Narrative Best Practices
Click here to access the presentation materials and a recording of each event under “Grants and Loans”.
ASLRRA Members (when logged in) can click the titles of each of the sections below for additional, detailed information.
The Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) for FY23 grants is expected in December 2023 or January 2024. ASLRRA encourages those who were unsuccessful in the FY22 round to consider resubmitting for FY23 and FY24, as, historically, resubmittals for CRISI grants have done well.
ASLRRA’s Richard Sherman, Assistant Vice President of Policy and Industry Affairs and in-house CRISI expert, provides some advice for railroads looking to start revising their FY22 applications now to resubmit them when the next NOFO is released.
Members can follow this link to view and download a tip sheet that includes information about evaluating the submitted application, advancing project development and more.
The FRA held several webinars, focusing on a different aspect of the notice of funding opportunity (NOFO). While these webinars were focused on RCE grants, the information discussed could be insightful for railroads planning to apply for other grants, like the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) program. Click here to access the presentation materials and a recording of the event under “Grants and Loans”.
In FY 22, approximately $100 million in grants were made available to eligible entities to expand the sales and use of renewable fuels through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Higher Blends Infrastructure Incentive Program (HBIIP).
The program includes grants of up to $5 million with cost-sharing of as much as half of all total project costs. Funding can be used to build and retrofit biofuel-related infrastructure such as pumps, dispensers and storage tanks. Eligible entities include rail fueling facilities.
Although Grant applications were due Nov. 21, 2022 for this round, helpful information to prepare for FY 23 applications can be found on the website including information about how to apply and a program fact sheet.