September 25, 2023

FRA awards more than $1.4B to short-line and passenger rail projects


The Federal Railroad Administration has awarded more than $1.4 billion to 70 rail improvement projects across 35 states and the District of Columbia through the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) program. 

FRA said the award total is the largest amount ever given, with nearly two-thirds of the funding affecting rural communities. The American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA) also called the awards historic because they represented a record $720 million given to 47 short-line railroad projects across the U.S. 

“These awards make possible transformational improvements to short line rail infrastructure, pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into safety improvements, emissions-reducing technology, and track and bridge rehabilitation to enhance network resiliency, capacity, fluidity, and service to shippers,” said ASLRRA President Chuck Baker in a Monday statement. “FRA’s wise selections make clear that short line applicants and their partners provided fiercely competitive proposals that delivered on the USDOT’s stated goals of providing infrastructure investment to improve safety, efficiency, economic vitality, and resiliency.”

ASLRRA noted similarities among some of the projects: 13 include grade crossing safety and trespassing mitigation elements; 14 will invest $300 million to upgrade track to move industry-standard rail cars weighing up to 286,000 pounds to improve network fluidity and create efficiency benefits for shippers; 20 involve upgrading or repairing bridges; and six will upgrade or purchase 24 locomotives at the tier 3 or 4 or zero-emission levels.

Thirty-four of the short-line awards will specifically benefit rural areas, ASLRRA said.

“The CRISI program is ‘the people’s program’ for the short line rail industry. It is the only federal grant for which short lines are directly eligible, it invests enough in individual short line projects to truly move the dial, and generally requires realistic matching for small businesses,” Baker said.

The list of all awarded projects is available here.

The top-funded projects with sizable freight rail presence include:

  • Up to $178 million for the Gulf Coast Corridor Improvement Project in Mississippi, awarded to Amtrak in partnership with the Southern Rail Commission.

The project aims to prepare the region for passenger rail service, which the area hasn’t had since Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The funding will go toward track and signal-related improvements, upgrades at certain grade crossings and improvements to certain stations along the Gulf Coast rail corridor between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama. Funding also will be used for project development, final design and construction. Upgrades also are designed to mitigate impacts to the operations of CSX (NASDAQ: CSX), Norfolk Southern (NYSE: NSC) and the Port of Mobile. CSX and NS will provide a 20% funding match.

(Related article: Stakeholders reach potential settlement on Gulf Coast Amtrak service)

  • $72.8 million for the Washington State Rural Rail Rehabilitation Phase II Project, awarded to the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT).

WSDOT will use the award to make several track-related improvements, upgrade grade crossings and enhance infrastructure on the Palouse River & Coulee City Railroad (PCC), which FRA says is vital in improving the wheat supply chain. The infrastructure upgrades will enable the PCC to withstand 286,000-pound rail cars, increase speeds and protect against the effects of severe storms and washouts. WSDOT, Washington Eastern Railroad and 12 other private partners will provide a 35% funding match.

“Thanks to this funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law [which ensured federal funding of the CRISI grant program], our State of Washington wheat will reach local and international markets faster. The legislation nearly tripled funding for freight rail infrastructure, allowing the Palouse River & Coulee City Railroad to make this upgrade that will allow trains to safely travel twice as fast on sections of the 297-mile route,” Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said in a Monday release. “The railroad is a critical part of the Washington Grain Train program, which serves over 2,500 farmers and moves tons of grain to ships at deep-water ports destined for overseas markets.”

  • $59.1 million for the second phase of the Point-No-Point Bridge replacement project in New Jersey, awarded to Conrail.

Funding will be used to replace the existing Point-No-Point (PNP) Bridge, a swing-type bascule bridge that is obsolete, with a more resilient and efficient single-leaf bascule drawbridge structure. The PNP Bridge is on Conrail’s Passaic and Harsimus line, a “critical rail infrastructure component” that connects CSX and NS with the Port of New York and New Jersey, according to FRA. Replacing the bridge should improve rail service by reducing the open and close times from 5.5 hours to 12 minutes, as well as reducing the need for trains to take a 12-mile detour. The bridge replacement is also expected to improve the passenger rail service. Conrail will provide a 20% funding match. 

(Related article: 120-plus-year-old New Jersey freight rail bridge replacement finally rising)

  • $52 million for Gloster Southern Railroad restoration, awarded to Gloster, Mississippi.

The project will go toward the final design, right-of-way acquisition, and construction activities for various track-related improvements, upgrades to certain grade crossings and rehabilitation of multiple bridges and culverts on a 35-mile segment of Gloster Southern Railroad, where rail service was discontinued in 2009. The project will serve existing businesses, reduce emissions and foster economic development in the heavily rural area. CLAW Forestry Services and Tatum Gravel will provide a 20% funding match.

  • $42.5 million for the first phase of a Sacramento to Roseville, California, third track project, awarded to the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority (CCJA).

CCJA will use the funding for project development, final design and construction activities related to various track-related and signal improvements, enhancements to certain grade crossings, one new bridge and trespassing prevention measures within Union Pacific’s (NYSE: UNP) corridor. The project aims to increase Capitol Corridor passenger rail capacity between Sacramento and Roseville while also preserving the capability and fluidity of UP’s main line. The state of California will provide a 71.9% funding match, while the Federal Highway Administration will provide $2 million in federal funds. 

  • $31.9 million for the SMART Healdsburg Green Rail Modernization Project, awarded to the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit District (SMART). 

SMART will use the funding to replace three older, higher-emission freight locomotives with lower-emission, tier 4 Environmental Protection Agency-compliant locomotives, as well as install positive train control on SMART’s corridor between Windsor and Healdsburg, California. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District and the state of California will contribute a 50% funding match.

  • $31.2 million for the Southeast Kansas Short Line Rail Upgrade and Growth Project, awarded to the Kansas Department of Transportation.

The award will go toward track-related improvements on 37 miles of the Neodesha Subdivision of the South Kansas & Oklahoma Railroad (SKOL). These improvements include enabling SKOL to increase its load-carrying capacity to 286,000 pounds and upgrading the FRA Class 1 standard to the FRA Class 2 track standard. These improvements will help meet new customer demand, including one from a new soybean-crushing facility. The Kansas Department of Transportation will provide a 20% funding match. 

Other sizable awards include $201.9 million to the California High-Speed Rail Authority for final design, right-of-way acquisition and construction activities for six grade crossings and track-related improvements near the city of Shafter to prepare the region for intercity passenger rail service; $108.1 million to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) for various track, signal, grade crossing and bridge improvements on the Inland Route corridor, which is owned by CSX and MassDOT, to bolster Amtrak service; and $100 million to the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority for the Franconia-Springfield bypass project, which seeks to improve passenger and intercity rail service by enabling passenger trains to cross over CSX’s freight tracks and avoid at-grade delays. 

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Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Joanna Marsh.


The second annual F3: Future of Freight Festival will be held in Chattanooga, “The Scenic City,” this November. F3 combines innovation and entertainment — featuring live demos, industry experts discussing freight market trends for 2024, afternoon networking events, and Grammy Award-winning musicians performing in the evenings amidst the cool Appalachian fall weather.

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