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Rail News: Short Lines & Regionals

ASLRRA calls on Congress to ensure a level playing field for short-line funding


In congressional testimony delivered yesterday, American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA) President Chuck Baker said federal grants have helped short lines revitalize important sections of the nation's rail network.

Baker presented his perspective to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which held a hearing on U.S. Department of Transportation's discretionary grant programs.

Short lines have invested grant funding — issued through federal programs created by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) of 2021 — into projects that have eliminated bottlenecks and reduced congestion on rail lines, Baker said, according to an ASLRRA press release.

Short lines have competed for funding through IIJA-created programs that include the Railroad Crossing Elimination, Nationally Significant Multimodal Freight and Highway Projects, National Infrastructure Project Assistance, Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity, Rural Surface Transportation and Port Infrastructure Development programs.

However, the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) program has provided the broadest eligibility for short line projects and is the one easiest for small railroads to access since they are directly eligible recipients, Baker said.

Announced in September 2023, the most recent CRISI awards were the first made under the new levels called for in the IIJA. Forty-seven short line projects were selected for projects designed to improve grade-crossing safety, upgrade track to industry standards, repaired bridges and replaced locomotives. In all, projects in 48 states have received awards via CRISI since the program’s first grants were announced in 2017.

Still, there’s at least $12 billion worth of short-line investments needed to rehabilitate short-line infrastructure nationwide, according to Baker.

"We urge Congress to keep the CRISI program focused on freight rail, and ensure a level playing field for small short-line projects," Baker said. "In all programs, ensure that the processes for grant applications, awards and funding are streamlined and transparent, and finally, that the agencies are well staffed with subject matter experts for all phases."

A transcript of Baker’s testimony can be viewed here.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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