NS, three short lines gain first-ever grants through new Georgia DOT rail program

By landing two Georgia DOT grants totaling more than $453,000, CaterParrott Railnet can offset the cost to replace four box culverts and stabilize a bridge deck. CaterParrott Railnet

By Jeff Stagl, Managing Editor 

Norfolk Southern Railway and three short lines recently turned out to be the big winners of the six initial grants issued by the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) through its new Georgia Freight Rail Program. 

Created late last year, the program is designed to enhance the state’s freight-rail investments for the public’s benefit by helping to bolster rail infrastructure in Georgia. CSX, NS and the 26 short lines that operate in the state are eligible to apply for the grants.  

GA Southwestern RR A 213-mile short line owned by Genesee & Wyoming, Georgia Southwestern Railroad will apply its two grants toward upgrades to two grade crossings. Genesee & Wyoming Inc.

Two-thirds of the total appropriated grants are distributed to the Class Is and one-third are allocated to short lines through the program, which is managed by GDOT’s intermodal rail program staff. 

The program offers grants to eligible applicants to acquire, lease or improve railways or railroad equipment, including grade crossings, rolling stock, rights of way or rail facilities; acquire, lease or improve short lines or assist other entities in acquiring, leasing or improving short lines; or build, construct, restructure or improve industrial access to tracks and related facilities. 

In late March, GDOT announced the program’s first-ever grants: 

• $8.4 million to NS for passing track improvements;  

• $1.6 million to the SAM Shortline for a spur track and maintenance/storage facility; 

• $453,486 (in two separate grants) to CaterParrott Railnet to replace box culverts and stabilize a bridge deck; and 

• $330,750 (in two separate grants) to Georgia Southwestern Railroad (GSWR) to improve crossings and a passing track. 

NS General Usage NS obtained the largest grant — $8.4 million — to help fund a $21 million project that calls for improving a passing track between Macon and Atlanta. Norfolk Southern Railway

NS’ grant will help cover a portion of a $21 million project that calls for building a passing track on the Class I’s busy line between Macon and Atlanta to reduce blocked crossings. The rail corridor connects the Georgia Port Authority's Garden City Terminal at the Port of Savannah and the metro Atlanta area. 

The work involves extending the current passing track in McDonough to more than double its current length.  

The grant funding will help NS enhance service for local customers, improve mainline train access across the railroad’s 22-state network and ease congestion along the corridor, said NS Senior Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer Mike McClellan in a press release. 

"These infrastructure improvements will bolster our operational efficiency while driving economic growth across the region, promising enduring benefits for our communities," he said. 

The NS project will remove about 10,000 trucks per year from Georgia highways, said Justin Thrift, GDOT’s short line and freight rail development manager, at a state transportation committee meeting held March 21 (according to a video provided by the department). 

“It will also eliminate blocked rail crossings at six different locations in McDonough,” he said. 

SAM Shortline An excursion railroad, SAM Shortline obtained a $1.6 million grant to build 750 feet of new track and a maintenance/storage facility in Cordele. SAM Shortline

Meanwhile, SAM Shortline — an excursion railroad — will use the grant proceeds to build 750 feet of new track and build a maintenance/storage facility in Cordele, said Thrift. The grant will cover the entire cost of the work. In addition to the regular excursion trips, SAM Shortline offers special Christmas, dinner and fundraiser trains. 

For GSWR — a 213-mile short line owned by Genesee & Wyoming Inc. — the grants will help offset the cost to improve a triple-track grade crossing in Cuthbert and a double-track crossing in Shellman. Those projects are estimated to cost $675,000 for the short line, which interchanges with NS, the Heart of Georgia Railroad and Hilton & Albany Railroad. 

Finally, CaterParrott Railnet will apply its grant funds to the replacement of four box culverts in Lowndes County to improve major drainage structures and the stabilization of a bridge deck along its F Line in Madison, said Thrift. Combined, the projects are estimated to cost about $592,000. 

CaterParrott Railnet operates six lines in 12 Georgia counties and provides switching, transloading, rail-car storage and car repair services. 

All the grant funds are slated to be distributed in April, with the projects starting as soon as June, said Thrift. 

GDOT expects to issue grants annually through the Georgia Freight Rail Program, subject to the availability of state appropriations. Fiscal-year 2025 grant funds are projected to be similar to FY2024’s amount.