FAST Act transportation bill to offer grants to shortlines and passenger railroads

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Portland & Western GP40P-2 No. 3002 passes in the distance from a covered bridge near Harris, Ore., in 2008. In the new transportation act approved by Congress and signed by President Obama, Class III shortline railroads, such as the Portland & Western, are eligible for grants to fund certain infrastructure improvements. Portland & Western is owned by the Genesee & Wyoming group.
Scott Lothes
WASHINGTON — Freight and passenger railroads are set to benefit from the nation’s newest transportation bill signed into law by President Barack Obama last week. One of the larger perks from “Fixing America’s Surface Transportation” Act includes the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety improvement program. Lawmakers have appropriated $1.1 billion over the next five years to this cause.

Eligible applicants can apply for grants that help fund the implementation of railroad safety technology, such as Positive Train Control and rail inspection systems, state-administered capital projects, initiatives aimed at reducing congestion and advocating rail passenger growth, highway-rail grade crossing improvements, rail line relocation and improvement projects, short line and regional railroad infrastructure enhancements, projects that expand multimodal connectivity, a wide range of research causes that improve rail safety, operations, and rail related capital projects, and workforce training related initiatives supported by the Department of Transportation.

Those eligible include passenger and Class II or Class III freight (regional and short line) railroads, rail equipment manufacturers in partnership with a railroad, universities, research and labor organizations, and state agencies or multi-state groups.

The criteria for receiving grants will be dependent on the proposed Federal share of the project, cost-benefits, anticipated public-private benefits, and success with previous initiatives administered by the applicant, among others. The law says that preference will be given to projects for which the Federal share of total projected costs does not exceed 50 percent and grants can fund up to 80 percent of total projected costs.

Additionally, the bill has allocated 25 percent of the total appropriation for projects in rural areas.

The National Association of Railroad Passengers said the bill’s project list is “spot on” and that the 25 percent allocated for projects in rural areas is helpful.
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