[Federal Register Volume 77, Number 114 (Wednesday, June 13, 2012)]
[Pages 35471-35473]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2012-14414]



Federal Railroad Administration

[Docket No. FRA-2012-0016]

National Environmental Policy Act Implementation

AGENCY: Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), United States Department 
of Transportation (DOT).

ACTION: Notice of intent to amend FRA's Procedures for Considering 
Environmental Impacts by adding categorical exclusions.


SUMMARY: FRA is publishing this notice to request comments on FRA's 
proposed additions to the list of categorical exclusions (CEs) 
contained in FRA's Procedures for Considering Environmental Impacts 
(Environmental Procedures). CEs are actions that FRA has determined do 
not individually or cumulatively have significant effects on the human 
or natural environment and thus, do not require the preparation of an 
environmental assessment (EA) or environmental impact statement (EIS) 
under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). FRA's Environmental 
Procedures currently contain twenty CEs, and FRA is proposing to add 
seven additional CEs.
    FRA is also making a Categorical Exclusion Substantiation Document 
(Substantiation Document) available for public review. That document 
supports the proposed CEs and demonstrates that the actions covered by 
the proposed CEs are unlikely to have significant impacts on the human 
or natural environment. The Substantiation Document is available on 
FRA's Web site at http://www.fra.dot.gov/.

DATES: FRA invites the public to comment on the proposed CEs that will 
be added to FRA's Environmental Procedures. Comments on this notice are 
due on or before July 13, 2012. Comments received after that date will 
be considered to the extent possible without incurring additional 
expense or delay.

ADDRESSES: Please submit your comments by one of the following means, 
identifying your submissions by docket number FRA-2012-0016. All 
electronic submissions must be made to the U.S. Government electronic 
site at http://www.regulations.gov. Commenters should follow the 
instructions below for mailed and hand-delivered comments.
    (1) Web site: http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the instructions 
for submitting comments on the U.S. Government electronic docket site;
    (2) Fax: (202) 493-2251;
    (3) Mail: U.S. Department of Transportation, 1200 New Jersey Avenue 
SE., Docket Operations, M-30, Room W12-140, Washington, DC 20590-0001; 
    (4) Hand Delivery: Room W12-140 on the first floor of the West 
Building, 1200 New Jersey Avenue SE, Washington, DC 20590, between 9 
a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, except Federal holidays.
    Instructions: All submissions must make reference to the ``Federal 
Railroad Administration'' and include docket number FRA-2012-0016. Due 
to security procedures in effect since October 2001, mail received 
through the U.S. Postal Service may be subject to delays. Parties 
making submissions responsive to this notice should consider using an 
express mail firm to ensure the prompt filing of any submissions not 
filed electronically or by hand. Note that all submissions received, 
including any personal information therein, will be posted without 
change or alteration to http://www.regulations.gov. For more 
information, you may review DOT's complete Privacy Act Statement in the 
Federal Register published on April 11, 2000 (65 FR 19477), or visit 

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: For questions about this notice, 
please contact Christopher Van Nostrand, Attorney Advisor, Office of 
the Chief Counsel, Federal Railroad Administration, 1200 New Jersey 
Ave. SE., W31-208, Washington, DC 20590, telephone: (202) 493-6058.


Table of Contents

I. Background
II. Process Used To Identify the Categorical Exclusions
III. Proposed Categorical Exclusions

I. Background

    FRA's Environmental Procedures were published in the Federal 
Register on May 26, 1999 (64 FR 28545) and are available on the 
agency's Web site at http://www.fra.dot.gov/Pages/252.shtml. The 
Environmental Procedures establish the process for the assessment of 
environmental impacts of actions and legislation proposed by FRA and 
for the preparation and processing of documents based upon such 
assessments. The Environmental Procedures supplement the Council on 
Environmental Quality (CEQ) regulations (40 CFR parts 1500-1508). 
Topics addressed in the Environmental Procedures include, among other 
things, the preparation of environmental impact statements (EIS), 
environmental assessments (EA), findings of no significant impact, and 
section 4(f) analyses. Section 4(c) of the Environmental Procedures 
identifies twenty classes of action that FRA has determined to be 
categorically excluded from the EIS or EA preparation requirements of 
NEPA and the Procedures because actions encompassed within these 
classes or categories do not individually or cumulatively have a 
significant effect on the human or natural environment. The Procedures 
contain a process for identifying ``extraordinary circumstances,'' or 
unusual situations where a particular action normally

[[Page 35472]]

included within one of these categories is determined to potentially 
have significant environmental impacts and an EA or EIS is prepared.
    FRA has determined that additions to the existing list of CEs are 
necessary to facilitate FRA's administration of laws relating to 
railroad safety, development, rehabilitation, and railroad financial 
assistance programs, particularly the High-Speed Intercity Passenger 
Rail (HSIPR) grant program and the Railroad Rehabilitation and 
Improvement Financing (RRIF) loan/loan guarantee program. After careful 
consideration, FRA has determined that the actions included in the 
proposed seven new CEs are not of the type or character as to cause 
significant effects on the human or natural environment.
    Recent statutory initiatives have greatly expanded FRA's ability to 
provide financial assistance to intercity passenger railroad projects 
and contributed to the need for these proposed CEs. The Passenger Rail 
Investment and Improvement Act (PRIIA) of 2008 (Division B of Pub. L. 
110-432, 122 Stat. 4907, October 16, 2008) created three new passenger 
rail capital assistance programs, the intercity passenger rail corridor 
capital assistance program, high-speed rail corridor development, and a 
congestion relief program. Additionally, in an effort to stimulate the 
economy, create jobs and jumpstart a new era of high-speed rail in this 
country, Congress provided $8 billion in grant funding for projects 
that support high-speed intercity passenger rail programs in the 
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act) (Pub. L. 
111-5, 123 Stat. 115). Congress also appropriated additional funds for 
high-speed and intercity rail projects in the Transportation, Housing 
and Urban Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for 2010 
(Div A of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2010) (Pub. L. 111-117).
    PRIIA, the Recovery Act, and other appropriations greatly expanded 
FRA's capacity to fund rail projects in order to achieve a world class 
high-speed and passenger rail program in the United States. The purpose 
of the HSIPR Program is to address the nation's transportation 
challenges by investing in efficient high-speed and intercity passenger 
rail networks connecting communities across America.\1\ Many of these 
investments involve large scale projects that FRA and project sponsors 
(typically State transportation departments) will be preparing EISs and 
EAs. However, other investments and components of multi-year programs 
are smaller projects that FRA has concluded do not require either an 
EIS or an EA and could be categorically excluded if the agency had the 
appropriate CEs in place. Preparing EISs or EAs for projects that can 
be categorically excluded is not an efficient use of resources of 
either FRA or our state partners. Accordingly, the added CEs will 
facilitate the responsible and efficient implementation of the HSIPR, 
RRIF, and other FRA programs.

    \1\ See Federal Railroad Administration, Vision for High-Speed 
Rail in America (April 2009) (describing the general approach to 
revitalizing high-speed and intercity passenger rail in the United 
States) available at http://www.fra.dot.gov/downloads/Research/FinalFRA_HSR_Strat_Plan.pdf.

    Some of the proposed CEs were chosen from the list of categorical 
exclusions currently employed by both the Federal Highway 
Administration (FHWA) and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) (see 
23 CFR 771). FRA has identified these specific actions for categorical 
exclusion because they have direct applicability for many FRA programs 
and a limited potential for environmental impacts. All of the actions 
identified in this notice have been subject to prior extensive 
environmental review by FRA, FHWA and FTA, are comparable to activities 
categorically excluded by other Federal agencies, and were identified 
through FRA's benchmarking effort (described in greater detail below). 
These environmental reviews, mostly in the form of documented CEs and 
EAs, demonstrate that the actions do not individually or cumulatively 
have a significant effect on the human or natural environment. As 
required under FRA's Environmental Procedures, FRA staff evaluates each 
action individually to ensure that the action meets the criteria for 
categorical exclusion, and whether extraordinary circumstances exist 
that require additional environmental review.

II. Process Used To Identify the Categorical Exclusions

    FRA undertook a rigorous process to identify categories of actions 
appropriate for new CEs. This evaluation process included an internal 
review by FRA's Environment and Systems Planning Division as well as 
FRA's Office of Chief Counsel, independent review and comment by 
experts enlisted by FRA in coordination with FTA and the John A. Volpe 
National Transportation Systems Center in Cambridge Massachusetts 
(Volpe Center), submission to CEQ, and now publication for public 
review and opportunity to comment. FRA undertook this process to ensure 
that the types of projects covered by the new CEs presented in Section 
III below do not cause significant impacts on the human or natural 
    The list of new CEs was generated in close collaboration with FTA. 
FRA and FTA each have responsibility for similar types of rail 
projects. FTA has historically provided funding for commuter rail 
projects, which have many similarities to intercity passenger rail 
projects and to freight railroad projects. In addition to using 
existing FTA CEs as templates, FRA has coordinated the effort to 
develop new CEs with FTA and jointly submitted its CEs to NEPA experts 
for independent review.
    FTA and FRA, in coordination with the Volpe Center, called on 
several expert NEPA professionals to provide feedback on FTA's and 
FRA's initial list of actions to be classified as CEs. The experts' 
opinions were very valuable in refining the CEs, including identifying 
appropriate limitations necessary to avoid covering activities that 
have the potential to have significant environmental impacts. The 
experts were asked to draw upon their general knowledge of and 
experience/involvement with NEPA environmental processes. The 
submission to the experts consisted of the proposed CE, a brief 
explanation of the CE, and a list of comparative benchmarks or similar 
CEs currently employed by other Federal agencies. After a period of 
review, the experts submitted comments to FRA that included suggested 
changes or modifications or, in most cases, an endorsement of the 
proposed CE.
    After receiving the experts' comments and suggestions, FRA staff 
met to discuss the comments and modified the CEs where appropriate. The 
experts suggested ways in which to narrow the categories of actions to 
ensure that all covered activities were likely to have less than 
significant impacts. In addition, using their own professional 
experience, they provided insights into the potential practical 
application of many of the proposed CEs.
    Consistent with 40 CFR 1507.3 and the Memorandum for the Heads of 
Federal Departments and Agencies from Nancy H. Sutley, Chair, Council 
on Environmental Quality on Establishing and Applying Categorical 
Exclusions Under the National Environmental Policy Act (Nov. 23, 2010), 
FRA consulted with CEQ prior to publishing this notice and posting the 
Substantiation Document for public review and comment. CEQ suggested 
modifications to clarify FRA's intended application and the intended 
scope of the proposed CEs, and the CEs proposed

[[Page 35473]]

in this notice and the accompanying Substantiation Documentation 
reflect CEQ's comments and suggestions.
    FRA is making the Substantiation Document available on FRA's Web 
site http://www.fra.dot.gov/rpd/passenger/33.shtml for public review 
and comment for a period of 30 days running concurrently with this 
notice. After the 30 day comment period, FRA will consider comments 
received and make any necessary changes to address substantive issues 
raised by the public.

III. Proposed Categorical Exclusions

    FRA is proposing to add the following seven CEs to section 4(c) of 
FRA's Environmental Procedures as follows:
    (21) Alterations to existing facilities, locomotives, stations and 
rail cars in order to make them accessible for the elderly and persons 
with disabilities, such as modifying doorways, adding or modifying 
lifts, constructing access ramps and railings, modifying restrooms, or 
constructing accessible platforms.
    (22) Bridge rehabilitation, reconstruction or replacement, and the 
construction of bridges, culverts, and grade separation projects, 
predominantly within existing right-of-way and that do not involve 
extensive in-water construction activities, such as projects replacing 
bridge components including stringers, caps, piles, or decks, the 
construction of roadway overpasses to replace at-grade crossings, or 
construction or replacement of short span bridges.
    (23) Acquisition (including purchase or lease), rehabilitation, or 
maintenance of vehicles and equipment that does not cause a substantial 
increase in the use of infrastructure within the existing right-of-way 
or other previously disturbed locations, including locomotives, 
passenger coaches, freight cars, trainsets, and construction, 
maintenance or inspection equipment.
    (24) Installation, repair and replacement of equipment and small 
structures designed to promote transportation safety, security, 
accessibility, communication or operational efficiency that take place 
predominantly within the existing right-of-way and do not result in a 
major change in traffic density on the existing rail line or facility, 
such as the installation, repair or replacement of surface treatments 
or pavement markings, small passenger shelters, railroad warning 
devices, train control systems, signalization, electric traction 
equipment and structures, electronics, photonics, and communications 
systems and equipment, equipment mounts, towers and structures, 
information processing equipment, or security equipment, including 
surveillance and detection cameras.
    (25) Environmental restoration, remediation and pollution 
prevention activities in or proximate to existing and former railroad 
track, infrastructure, stations and facilities, including activities 
such as noise mitigation, landscaping, natural resource management 
activities, replacement or improvement to storm water systems, 
installation of pollution containment systems, slope stabilization, and 
contaminated soil removal in conformance with applicable regulations 
and permitting requirements.
    (26) Assembly and construction of facilities and stations that are 
consistent with existing land use and zoning requirements, do not 
result in a major change in traffic density on existing rail or highway 
facilities and result in approximately less than 10 acres of surface 
disturbance, such as storage and maintenance facilities, freight or 
passenger loading and unloading facilities or stations, parking 
facilities, passenger platforms, canopies, shelters, pedestrian 
overpasses or underpasses, paving, or landscaping.
    (27) Track and track structure maintenance and improvements when 
carried out predominantly within the existing right-of-way and that do 
not cause a substantial increase in rail traffic beyond existing or 
historic levels, such as stabilizing embankments, installing or 
reinstalling track, re-grading, replacing rail, ties, slabs and 
ballast, improving or replacing interlockings, or the installation or 
maintenance of ancillary equipment.

    Issued in Washington, DC, on June 5, 2012.
Joseph C. Szabo,
[FR Doc. 2012-14414 Filed 6-12-12; 8:45 am]