Rail construction surges with influx of transportation funding
Funding for rail projects will be significant in the new infrastructure bill, but even now before new allocations are available, upcoming rail projects are being announced on a weekly basis. The diversity of projects is evidence of public officials at various levels of government working hard to incentivize ridership on public railways.
Northeast Corridor Commission
The Northeast Corridor Commission, a federally convened partnership between the states and Amtrak, recently released a 15-year plan, Connect NEC 2035, to upgrade tracks and stations. The rail line runs 457 miles from Washington, D.C., to Boston. An investment of $117 billion will be required to implement the plan.
Under the plan, the Tower One Interlocking Project will upgrade tracks and signals at the entrance to South Station and is scheduled to start construction in 2022.
New high-level platforms at South Attleboro station and electrification of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) station sidings will allow for electric regional rail services.
A new third track between Readville and Canton Junction will add additional capacity on the busiest segment of the Northeast Corridor. This project will be a joint venture between the MBTA and Amtrak.
Amtrak has also released its 2021 Corridor Vision which calls for expanded service to bring new intercity rail service to approximately160 previously unserved communities. At least 30 potential new routes and enhanced services are under consideration. Pennsylvania Northeast Regional Railroad Authority and Amtrak have formed a partnership to provide for passenger rail service between Scranton and New York City. Amtrak will assess the infrastructure along the route and make estimates about ridership and revenue. That analysis is expected to take about a year and cost $400,000.
The North Carolina Department of Transportation plans to allocate $10.2 million for freight rail and rail crossing safety improvement to 12 short lines and the North Carolina Ports Authority. The funding also will allow the state to work with rail companies on improvements designed to move freight more efficiently.
Planned projects and funding allocations include:
- Blue Ridge Southern Railroad, $4.5 million to upgrade track, crossings, and bridges.
- J. Corman Railroad Co., $2.5 million to upgrade crossings and tracks in Columbus and Horry counties.
- Carolina Coastal Railway, $2.2 million to increase train speeds by improving bridges and tracks.
- Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, $1.9 million to upgrade tracks and bridges and raise a track bed to prevent washouts in Jackson and Swain counties.
- Chesapeake & Albemarle Railroad, $1.87 million to upgrade tracks, improve bridges and construct a transload facility in Pasquotank County.
- Yadkin Valley Railroad, $1.5 million to upgrade track, switches, and bridges.
- North Carolina State Ports Authority, $1.4 million to upgrade rail and install radiation scanners for transporting containers by rail at the Port of Wilmington.
- Wilmington Terminal Railroad, $1.2 million to upgrade tracks in New Hanover County.
- Laurinburg and Southern Railroad, $1 million to improve tracks and switches in Scotland County.
North Carolina and Georgia
The proposed 270-mile high-speed passenger line linking Charlotte and Atlanta now has a preferred route. The track will connect Charlotte Gateway Station and Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Portions of the high-speed line will allow for speeds of 125 miles per hour if diesel-powered and 220 miles per hour for electric trains. Two stations in South Carolina, three in North Carolina, and five in Georgia could be included. The environmental, economic and transportation impact plan noted an estimated cost of $6.2 billion to $8.4 billion.
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) announced that the application period for grants under the Rail Transportation Assistance Program (RTAP) and the Rail Freight Assistance Program (RFAP) will remain open through August 20. Previously, PennDOT awarded $31 million for 26 rail freight projects. The grant funding is available to preserve essential rail service and preserve or stimulate economic development through new or expanded rail. Watch for newly funded projects to be announced soon.
Lake County officials hope to receive $20 million from the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) grant program. The funding will be used for railroad improvements between Lakeview and Alturas. Lake County has also received a grant from the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Program for the first phase of a project that involves 55 miles of county-owned rail line.
The city of Fort Worth has proposed several dozen projects in a $500 million bond program being developed by the Tarrant County Commissioners Court. With the funding, the city will launch projects to maintain and improve existing infrastructure and provide city services to fast-growing regions. One proposed project has an estimated cost of $30 million for grade-separated railroad crossings.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MDOT) has awarded $4.05 million in grants through the Minnesota Rail Service Improvement Program to the following projects:
- $1.15 million to rehabilitate 5,475 feet of railroad track and re-establish rail service to the Grand Rapids Industrial Park.
- $820,000 for a rail spur at the Farmers Grain terminal in Thief River Falls.
- $647,000 to reconstruct, upgrade and modernize approximately 700 feet of curved rail crossing and a switch at the Duluth Seaway Port Authority.
- $500,000 to construct a new rail spur to a fertilizer plant on the Minnesota Prairie Line.
- $480,000 to construct a rail spur as part of a new freight loading facility on the Otter Tail Valley Railroad in Fergus Falls.
- $250,000 to construct rail loading facilities at the Farmers Cooperative Elevator Company in Echo.
- $210,000 to replace a timber deck on the Minnesota Commercial Railway bridge in Minneapolis.
Cook County’s Department of Transportation and Highways has awarded $8.5 million in funding for projects that include:
- $600,000 to Metra for the 147th St. Station rehabilitation project on the Metra Electric Line, a rebuild project at the station’s entrance, and development of elevator space.
- $401,550 to the Chicago Transit Authority for design and engineering related to improving the at-grade crossing of the Pink Line with Cicero Avenue.
- $150,000 to the city of Harvey for the study of a quiet zone along the CSX line from Robey Avenue to Park Avenue.
The Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency (CREATE) Program has received $19.1 million from the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant program for construction of the Archer Avenue Grade Separation and the Belt Railway of Chicago (BRC) rail tracks.
The Federal Aviation Administration has issued final approval for a monorail to connect trains from Manhattan to LaGuardia Airport. The estimated cost is $2 billion. The proposed monorail will be an elevated 1.5-mile link that connects the airport and a train stop with the No. 7 subway line. Preliminary construction will begin this summer.
Metrolink received $13.6 million of Federal Highway Administration funds for safety improvements at four grade crossings along the Antelope Valley Line in the cities of Palmdale and Lancaster. Planned improvements include automatic pedestrian gates with emergency exits, median widening and extension, upgraded crossings, and enhanced warning systems. Construction will begin in early 2023.
Private sector firms that contract with government are advised to watch for additional funding announcements related to transportation infrastructure projects. Thousands of new contracting opportunities will be forthcoming soon.