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Research and Development Funding


Since 2006, Congress has consistently provided FRA’s Research and Development (R&D) program with around $35 million annually in funding. Stable funding enhances the program’s effectiveness, enabling multi-year projects, investments in test facilities and equipment like those used for high-speed and intercity passenger rail, and building and retaining expertise. Universities can develop educational programs to ensure the availability of qualified personnel for the industry, and partnerships can be established with industry stakeholders. Sustained R&D funding, above all, directly supports the FRA’s efforts to continuously improve railroad safety.  

While current funding levels allow us to meet the most pressing needs for safety-related R&D, there are opportunities to expand university R&D programs, strengthen research collaboration and help to address the future demands for an educated and qualified workforce. It would prepare the nation for high-performance rail by developing new technologies and testing facilities, and support DOT’s “Buy America” policy to ensure growth in the industry is supplied through domestic sources and jobs. Our current efforts associated with energy, the environment and railroad transportation efficiency could also be expanded.

A graph of FRA R&D Appropriations.

Procurement Strategies

Most of the R&D work sponsored by FRA is conducted by contractors and grantees. Research providers include research institutions, universities and consulting firms. Consistent funding levels over several years have allowed FRA to build a strong R&D supply base, which is critical to the success of the program.

In accordance with the Federal Acquisition Regulations, whenever practicable, research contracts will be competitively awarded on a best-value basis. Contracts may be negotiated on either a firm-fixed-price or cost-reimbursable basis. Research contract opportunities will be advertised on the Federal Government’s acquisition website:

Additionally, research projects may be funded by FRA through grants and cooperative agreements, primarily with non-profit institutions and universities. A grant agreement is appropriate when the grantee is solely responsible for conducting the project. A cooperative agreement is appropriate when both the grantee and the government or a third party participate in the project effort.

Work will continue to be funded through interagency agreements between FRA and a sister agency within DOT, the John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center (Volpe) in Cambridge, MA. Volpe has developed expertise in several technical areas through collaboration with FRA over many years. That expertise is key to the success of FRA’s R&D mission.

Part of FRA’s procurement strategy is to enter into multiyear contracts for particular services. Examples of these contracts are:

  • A with ENSCO, Inc. for the Operation, Maintenance, Instrumentation and Analysis (OMIA) of R&D’s test cars and road-rail vehicle.
  • Multiple, concurrent awards to several suppliers that allow FRA to draw upon contractors’ particular expertise for research services on short notice. These Indefinite Delivery - Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contracts typically run for 5 years.

The Small Business Innovation Development Act of 1982 requires a small, but increasing, portion of governmental research budgets to go towards Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) projects. The FRA has had some successful outcomes from SBIR projects and will continue to fund projects aligned with our agency goals.

The Transportation Research Board (TRB) of the National Academies of Science manages two research programs using FRA’s R&D funds:

Both the SBIR and IDEA programs have a two-stage funding approach. Work begins with modestly funded Phase I efforts. Projects that show promise may receive Phase II funding that may result in a prototype or proof of concept.

Periodically, the FRA provides funds for research through a Broad Agency Announcement (BAA). A BAA allows FRA to publicize a set of general research needs and to receive proposals from potential suppliers. Each proposal is evaluated independently to determine its fit with the needs and its value.