$1.4 Billion in Federal Grants Announced to Improve Railroad Safety, Boost Capacity
The Biden administration has announced more than $1.4 billion in grants to improve railroad safety and boost capacity across the country.
Much of the money for the grants comes from the 2021 infrastructure law. The money will fund 70 projects in 35 states and Washington D.C.
The money will supplement what the railroads themselves spend to maintain and upgrade their tracks and equipment. The six biggest freight railroads in the Unites States spend roughly $23 billion every year on those things. But these grants can be especially important for smaller railroads that operate on much tighter profit margins.
Some $720 million of the grants announced Monday will go to 47 projects at smaller railroads — known as short-line railroads — with most of those in rural areas. Chuck Baker, the president of the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association, said those grants will help put a dent in the backlog of needed repairs across those smaller railroads.
Baker said these projects “will produce benefits far beyond the track itself in the form of safer short line operations, improved rail service, greater supply chain fluidity and efficiency, reduced environmental impact, and the support of hundreds of thousands of jobs across the country that are tied directly to these railroads and to the shippers and communities they serve.”
Railroads are generally regarded as the safest way to ship freight over land, but rail safety has been a concern nationwide ever since a Norfolk Southern train derailed and caught fire in eastern Ohio back in February. That derailment highlighted the potential dangers of any crash involving hazardous materials.
Regulators and members of Congress called for safety reforms after that derailment but administrative rules are slow to develop and a rail safety bill has stalled in the Senate while waiting for a vote. So there hasn't been significant changes made in the industry besides the railroads' promise to add about 1,000 more trackside detectors to help spot mechanical problems before they can cause derailments.