State Rail Planning Best Practices

American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials


Develop a State Rail Planning Best Practices guidebook for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ (AASHTO) Standing Committee on Rail Transportation (SCORT) to be used by State Department of Transportation (DOT) Rail Offices when developing rail plans.

Our Approach

To develop the most current and relevant guidance for the states, Cambridge Systematics:

  • Conducted a detailed review of all existing statewide rail plans, including several developed by our firm (e.g., Virginia, Florida, North Carolina, Minnesota, and Montana).
  • Through this review and through interaction with an advisory council of state rail planners organized by AASHTO, identified best practices across several different categories, including visioning and goal setting; system inventory and use; and evaluation approaches.
  • Made several presentations of the draft instructional materials at AASHTO’s annual and semi-annual SCORT meetings to a broad group of states, railroads, and other stakeholders.
  • Distilled the findings of the best practices review into a guidebook that also meets Federal standards and guidelines for rail plans.
  • Before publication and distribution to the states, worked closely with AASHTO and several state rail officials to carefully review and customize the guidebook to provide timely and flexible guidance to states. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) also reviewed the guidebook and endorsed its use by AASHTO to help states advance rail planning efforts.

Guidebook Highlights

The guidebook covers both passenger and freight systems, recommends content and data sources, and provides instructions and examples of best practices. The instructions in the guidebook are designed to help states develop state rail plans that comply with the Federal standards outlined in the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (PRIAA) of 2009 which requires states to develop rail plans and update them on five-year cycles to maintain eligibility for Federal rail funding from the FRA. The overarching goal of this guidebook is to help states produce PRIIA compliant state rail plans customized to the unique circumstances of each state.

Project Results

The final guidebook provides step-by-step instructions on many facets of state rail planning, including the acquisition and application of data to assess system performance. The guidebook outlines potential approaches to evaluating projects using the PRIIA criteria. These instructions assist states in identifying and evaluating rail projects for inclusion in capital programs. The guidebook also contains advice to help state rail agencies assess their rail planning abilities and readiness to prepare for the challenge of developing a state rail plan. A section of the book also discusses approaches to integrate state rail plans into multimodal state planning efforts.

Since its publication, the guidebook has been widely distributed to states, Federal agencies, and the rail consulting community to raise the standards of state rail planning practice. Moving forward, our experience developing this guidebook enables Cambridge Systematics to help states prepare excellent state rail plans that meet Federal standards and state planning goals.