USDOT Railway Grants Improving Connections for Rural America, Agriculture


The U.S. Department of Transportation this month announced Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements grants. The department awarded more than $368 million for 46 projects in 32 states and the District of Columbia.

By statute, a minimum of 25 percent of the funding must go to rural areas, and the grants have nearly double the required investment in rural communities.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg says the goal is to make sure U.S. goods move more smoothly across the country, and offers rural communities many benefits.

“Along the way, it means a lot for rural communities in terms of everything from relocating rail lines, which sometimes means getting rid of crossings, to just having better flow, which means fewer block crossings in your community. And if you’re involved in agriculture exports, having those trains moving more quickly and more smoothly, more predictably, is a big deal. If you got nothing to do with Ag, it still means that this is one of the things we can do to make goods more affordable in stores because we have better supply chains. So, I’m a big believer in what we can do by investing in these rail improvements.”

One grant was awarded to the Iowa Northern Railway Company. Iowa Northern serves customers such as ADM, POET, John Deere and Tyson.

“What this is doing is installing what’s called continuous welded rail. One of the movements that we’re seeing in rail is going from the old style where you had these joints, so, imagine the length of rail and then it’s joined together. Every time you have one of those you got a spot that’s got to be maintained, where something can go wrong, where it needs to be fixed, to being able to have, well, just like the name says, continuous welded rail, it’s easier to maintain, and you have fewer issues. And when you have fewer issues, you have fewer situations where you have what’s called a slow order, for example, that requires a train to slow down, which again, can mean more blocked crossings, takes more time and money to get goods where they need to be. So, in this case, this is a grant that’s going to Iowa, up to $7.1 million, it’ll let them do about 27 miles of this track. That lets them get these trains up to 40 miles an hour where they used to go a lot slower, and it’s helping them upgrade that entire rail which means longer life expectancy, and fewer maintenance issues.”

Another grant for the Southwest Kansas Infrastructure Upgrade Project will make a series of improvements on the Cimarron Valley Railroad.

“The Kansas one is exciting because we see a direct impact for agriculture. In this case, it’s not just the rail, it’s the ties. They got about 50,000 of those cross ties, those wooden ties that sooner or later, all of those needs to be upgraded. Right now, there are stretches there where the allowable speed is only 10 miles an hour, so this allows them to more than double that, you can run heavier loads across the same rail. And again, the bottom line is that more goods can move over the same rail which means less time and money to get stuff where it needs to be. And even if you don’t live anywhere near Kansas, you just might be counting on goods that come over those rail connections in the middle of the country.”

The Transportation Department was able to increase funding for the program thanks to the bipartisan infrastructure law. Secretary Buttigieg says more projects benefitting rural America are on the way.

“We’re doing a lot on roads and bridges. And in fact, stay tuned for more news on the bridge front where we’ve got frankly 1,000s and 1,000s of bridges across rural America that need improvement. And it’s not just the ones that, God forbid, fall down and make headlines. But just when you see the load limits or you see a restriction, of course in rural America, there might not be another bridge for quite a few miles, which means you got to go maybe half an hour out of your way just to get to where you’re going, and again, that affects people going about their lives, but also affects the cost and the delivery of goods if the trucks got to make that that kind of detour. So, look for more news on the bridge front, more rail improvements coming, also airports, we’re making a lot of improvements in airports, that’s not just for the big global hubs, those airports can be a lifeline in our rural communities and smaller regions, as well.”

Buttigieg adds it’s all about better connecting America.

“We’re just really excited about these opportunities. Project by project, we are improving connections across the country, and you may see this coming to a community near you, you may not even notice some of the improvements. But when a railway gets fixed 1,000 miles away, that just might mean goods are more affordable at your local store. And so, we’re trying to connect everything up together which is, of course, our job as the Department of Transportation, and just thankful that we have the dollars to work with to really get this done.”