WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration announced Monday that it has awarded more than $1.4 billion to projects that improve railway safety and boost capacity, with roughly $1 billion of the money coming from the 2021 infrastructure law.
“These projects will make American rail safer, more reliable, and more resilient, delivering tangible benefits to dozens of communities where railroads are located, and strengthening supply chains for the entire country,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement.
The money is funding 70 projects in 35 states, including Wisconsin and Minnesota. Railroad safety has become a key concern nationwide ever since a train carrying hazardous chemicals derailed and caught fire in East Palestine, Ohio, in February.
That came just a few months before a train derailed along the Mississippi River in De Soto, Wis., just south of La Crosse. Several cars had overturned and jumbled along the bluff, while two others were floating down river. Railroad company BNSF has yet to announce the cause of that derailment
President Joe Biden has ordered federal agencies to hold the train’s operator Norfolk Southern accountable for the crash, but a package of proposed rail safety reforms has stalled in the Senate where the bill is still awaiting a vote. The White House is also saying that a possible government shutdown because of House Republicans would undermine railway safety.
The projects include track upgrades and bridge repairs, in addition to improving the connectivity among railways and making routes less vulnerable to extreme weather.
Here’s a look at the proposals in Wisconsin and Minnesota as among the $178.4 million projects:
Wisconsin – The Fox River Swing Bridge Improvement and Sustainability Project
Fox Valley & Lake Superior Rail System (FOXY) — up to $2,045,160
The proposed project involves project development activities for the rehabilitation of three
moveable swing bridges over the Fox River on FOXY’s rail line. Due to factors such as the
continued deterioration of the bridges and the age (approximately 100 years old), FOXY takes
the bridges out of service for an undetermined period on a regular basis, leading to delays in rail and maritime freight shipments. The project aligns with the selection criteria by improving ability to meet existing and anticipated demand as it will help FOXY prepare for future construction work that will increase load carrying capacity to the industry standard 286,000 pounds, as well as improve railroad operations and connectivity of maritime transportation. FOXY will provide a 20 percent non-Federal match.
Minnesota – MVRRA Track Rehabilitation Evaluation Project
Minnesota Valley Regional Rail Authority (MVRRA) — up to $520,000
The proposed project involves project development activities for track reconstruction on an approximately 40-mile-long segment on MVRRA’s rail line, as well as assessing grade crossing safety improvement options. The project aligns with the selection criteria by enhancing safety as it will evaluate track infrastructure improvements to resolve current challenges caused by track geometry and geographic limitations. Furthermore, the project will help advance efforts to allow 110-car freight trains to move 25 miles per hour, increase load capacity to 286,000-pounds, and allow for an interchange connection with the BNSF Railway where there is currently an out-of-service connection. MVRRA will provide a 20 percent non-Federal match. This project qualifies for the statutory set-aside for projects in Rural Areas.
Minnesota – TC&W Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvement Project
Twin Cities & Western Railroad Company (TC&W) — up to $2,103,000
The proposed project involves construction activities for track-related improvements to convert approximately 13 miles of jointed rail into continuous welded rail (CWR). The project aligns with the selection criteria by enhancing safety as it will improve safety, reduce the potential for costly derailments, and decrease overall maintenance costs. Also, the project supports a multiyear program to eliminate all jointed rail on its mainline, making for stronger and safer rail infrastructure. TC&W will provide a 50 percent non-Federal match. This project qualifies for the statutory set-aside for projects in Rural Areas.