The California State Rail Plan (CSRP) is among the best rail plan documents published by any jurisdiction in the United States to date. As such, the CSRP is used in this paper as the basis of comparison to other state rail service plans. These plans will have been submitted to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) on record as of June 2020—as required under Section 303 of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (PRIIA) of 2008. The purpose of this paper is to identify the best practices and gaps that may inform California and other states in their future rail service plan development.

This paper is grounded in the realization that, while the general outline of FRA requirements is uniform for all states, the actual content and inclusion of these requirements in the myriad state plans varies greatly. For example, California was granted an exception to help update FRA Rail Plan Guidance for its 2018 Rail Plan, other states have complained that FRA guidance and requirements on rail service planning have put state rail agencies in the position of constantly writing plans with little or no time to implement them.

Throughout this research, the authors identify all the elements of FRA guidelines as reflected in the CSRP and rail plans of other states. This report also identifies the best features and planning strategies that may inform and improve the state rail planning process going forward, steps that will positively contribute to the public benefit of enhanced rail systems.

Publication Date


Publication Type



Transit and Passenger Rail

Digital Object Identifier


MTI Project



Passenger rail, freight rail, intermodal, rail planning, transportation planning


Infrastructure | Transportation