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Thursday, October 08, 2009

FRA opens small grant pool for shortlines

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A year after Congress told federal regulators to issue $20 million in grants to help short line railroads recover from storm damages, the Federal Railroad Administration is ready to make the final $5 million of those funds available, the Journal of Commerce reported.

In an Oct. 7 Federal Register notice, the agency said it would start taking applications 10 days after that filing to help small freight railroads pay for repairs from Jan. 1, 2008 through the date of the federal notice.

The money may be spent on railroad rights-of-way, bridges, track signals and other infrastructure, provided the damage came from storms or other natural events in counties that were declared by the president to be disaster areas.

The move to establish a special pool of emergency grants for shortlines came out of the sudden flood disruptions that struck Iowa and several other Midwestern states in June 2008. It left behind many miles of twisted track and washed out rail bridges. While large Class 1 railroads quickly invested in repairs and had their networks back up and running, some short lines could not afford to fix costly infrastructure on their own. A few of those repairs are just now being completed.

By the time the measure passed Congress on Sept. 30, 2008 -- as part of the same legislation that authorized a massive bailout of the financial system by the treasury secretary -- more storms had struck and railroads in more regions were seeking help.

Last May, the FRA distributed $15 million of the grant pool among 12 rail projects, but held back the rest until now. To qualify, applicants must find other ways to cover 20 percent of the costs, and the FRA said they "must exhaust all other federal and state resources prior to seeking assistance under this program."

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