"FTA's discretionary New Starts program is the Federal governments primary financial resource for supporting rail fixed guideway capital investments. Projects eligible for New Starts funding include any fixed guideway system that utilizes and occupies a separate right-of-way, or rail line, or uses a fixed catenary system and a right-of-way usable by other forms of transportation, for the exclusive use of mass transportation. New Starts funding is available for the design, construction, and testing of new rail transit systems and extensions to existing systems. FTA, utilizing decision criteria defined in 49 U.S.C. 5309(e), selects those projects for funding which have demonstrated the greatest potential for improving urban mobility. New Starts systems must meet a variety of requirements in the preliminary engineering, final design, and construction phases to become fully operational. Traditionally, these requirements have focused on environmental, mobility, and financial obligations. However, with the passage of ISTEA, states with New Starts projects must now meet FTA's State Safety Oversight requirements."
Federal Transit Administration: http://transit-safety.volpe.dot.gov