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The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) will award two grants totaling $350,000 to support the development of a Short Line Rail Safety Institute, U.S. Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) announced late last week. The FRA confirmed the grants in a press release issued on Friday.The senators earlier this year proposed the formation of a Short Line Rail Safety Institute to enhance short-line safety, including the transportation of crude oil and ethanol. On May 15, Murray and Collins sent a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx expressing support for the institute, and in June they introduced legislation to authorize its formation.The FRA will provide a $250,000 grant to the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association to begin the pilot phase of safety culture assessments. Pilot testing will begin in January 2015 and initially will focus on the safety of crude by rail.The association plans to use the grant to conduct a comprehensive review of short lines' existing safety programs; use tools developed by the University of Connecticut to identify areas of non-compliance and help small railroads develop a safety culture; provide access to effective safety training processes, programs and resources; and develop large libraries of training tools, technical materials and other educational resources to assist small railroads in instilling a safety culture.The FRA also will provide a $100,000 grant to the University of Connecticut to conduct initial work focusing on the development, testing and validation of safety education, training and related programs for short-line managers and employees."Nearly half of all short line and regional railroads handle some type of hazardous materials, and [the] grants will play an important role in ensuring those materials and all shipments reach their destination safely," said Foxx in the FRA release. "These grants are just the latest step in our comprehensive approach to improving the safe transport of crude oil and other hazmat by rail."The Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee's fiscal-year 2015 bill recommends an additional $2 million for the Short Line Rail Safety Institute to conduct safety assessments for rail lines that transport crude oil and other hazardous materials. Murray chairs the subcommittee and Collins is its ranking member.Improving rail safety is a complicated, multi-faceted issue involving prevention, mitigation and response aspects, Murray and Collins said in their letter to Foxx. The proposed institute could be an important part of a larger solution, they believe.