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U.S. Rail Infrastructure Gets a $368 Million Financial Infusion

June 15, 2022
As supply chain and transportation snarls continue, the Federal Railroad Administration announces a new round of grants meant to maintain, improve and expand the nation’s passenger and freight rail systems.

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Running nearly 140,000 route miles, the nation’s freight rail network is widely considered the largest, safest and most cost-efficient freight system in the world. According to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), the nearly $80 billion freight rail industry includes seven Class I railroads (i.e., railroads with operating revenues of $490 million or more) and 22 regional and 584 local/short line railroads.

Employing more than 167,000 people, the network offers ancillary benefits that the FRA says other modes of transportation cannot, including reductions in road congestion, highway fatalities, fuel consumption, greenhouse gases, and lower logistics and public infrastructure maintenance costs. The FRA says private railroad owners spend nearly $25 billion annually—roughly 19% of their total revenues—maintaining their systems and adding capacity as needed.

This month, the FRA announced over $368 million in Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) grant program funds for 46 projects in 32 states and the District of Columbia. It says these investments will play a crucial role in modernizing the country’s rail infrastructure and strengthening supply chains, helping to reduce congestion and get people and goods where they need to go quickly and more affordably. “The program will create good-paying jobs and benefit urban and rural communities across the country,” the FRA notes.

Supporting a World-Class Rail System

The CRISI program funds projects that improve the safety, efficiency and reliability of intercity passenger and freight rail. For this latest round of grant funding, the selected projects will improve and expand passenger rail and fund conventional and high-speed rail; increase supply chain resilience and fluidity; support short line railroads; invest in new technology and safety advancements; and benefit rail industry workforce development and training activities.

“Americans deserve a world-class rail system that allows people and goods to get where they need to go more quickly and affordably, while reducing traffic and pollution on our roads,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, in a press release. “We’re proud to award these grants to improve passenger rail for riders and strengthen the freight rail that makes our supply chains and our economy work.”

The FRA says President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law has nearly tripled funding for the critical rail infrastructure program, which now totals $1 billion a year over the next five years. The law provides the basis for Federal Highway Administration programs and activities through Sept. 30, 2026. It makes a once-in-a-generation investment of $350 billion in highway programs, FHA adds, and includes the “largest dedicated bridge investment since the construction of the Interstate Highway System.”

Where the Money Will Go

Some of the rail projects that will be funded in 2022 include:

  • Heart of Georgia Americus Sub Upgrade Project: To replace approximately 18 miles of rail and 2,750 crossties, plus make many more rail upgrades, between Preston and Cordele, Ga. 
  • Port of Baltimore Rail Capacity Modernization Project: For the construction of four new working tracks and two crane rail beams within the Port of Baltimore’s Seagirt Marine Terminal in Baltimore, Md. The proposed improvements aim to meet demand in intermodal volumes. 
  • Raleigh to Richmond Corridor Infrastructure Engineering & Safety Program: To perform surveys and complete preliminary engineering for Raleigh to Richmond (R2R) Corridor Program improvements between Raleigh, N.C. and Richmond, Va. Included in this project is the construction of a grade separation on the S-Line in Wake Forest, N.C. 
  • Southwest Kansas Infrastructure Upgrade Project: For a series of improvements on the Cimarron Valley Railroad (CVR) from Dodge City to Hugoton, Kan. The project will replace approximately 51,618 crossties, relay 3.7 miles of rail in curves, apply new ballast to 67 miles of track and surface 85 miles of track. 
  • Florida Panhandle Rural Capacity Expansion Project: To replace approximately 70,000 ties, install approximately 14,300 new ties, rehabilitate 11 sidings and make repairs to 60 grade crossings between Jacksonville and Pensacola, Fla.

Competition for the grants is high. In fact, the FRA says that the CRISI program has drawn “significant interest” from states, local communities and rail stakeholders since its inception.

This year alone, the FRA received more than $1.1 billion in CRISI requests. The agency says it applies rigorous selection criteria to ensure that eligible projects would serve communities. Key selection criteria include enhancing safety, creating economic opportunities, providing energy efficient transportation options and helping the country’s world-class freight network meet growing demand.

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About the Author

Bridget McCrea | Contributing Writer | Supply Chain Connect

Bridget McCrea is a freelance writer who covers business and technology for various publications.