FRA Awards $6.9M in Special Transportation Circumstances Grants to Alaska, South Dakota

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has selected five rail capital projects in South Dakota and Alaska for Special Transportation Circumstances (STC) grants totaling $6.9 million. The grants are made available by the Consolidated Appropriations Acts of 2019 and 2020.

The grants can only be used for projects in those states and Wyoming, according to FRA—states that lack intercity passenger rail service or are not connected to the national rail system. (Hawaii is ineligible; details below.)

In this round of grant funding, the South Dakota Department of Transportation will be awarded $5.67 million for three projects:

  • Dakota, Missouri Valley & Western Rail Improvement ($1.87 million) will upgrade track between Britton and Aberdeen. Work includes replacement of approximately 20,450 ties, removal and replacement of old anchors, addition of ballast, and repair work to two railroad bridges. “These improvements will make the state-owned track safer and more efficient for lessee Dakota, Missouri Valley & Western Railroad,” FRA said.
  • Midland Rail Improvement ($2.24 million) will replace approximately four miles of mainline rail between Fort Pierre and Rapid City for Genesee & Wyoming, Inc. subsidiary Rapid City Pierre & Eastern. According to FRA, the “current rail is lightweight, obsolete and approaching 100 years old.”
  • Mitchell-Rapid City Meet and Pass Siding ($1.56 million) will construct a new, approximately 10,000-foot rail siding on MidWest Pacific Rail Net & Logistics-subsidiary Dakota Southern Railway’s mainline, east of Kimball. Half of the property where it will be located is owned by the state; the rest is to be acquired through other funding measures. “The grantee will clarify how this acquisition will be accomplished prior to grant obligation,” FRA noted.

The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities will receive $1.2 million for two projects:

  • Alaska Railroad Anderson Wheel Impact Load Detector ($761,918) will be put into service on the northern portion of the Alaska Railroad Corp.’s (ARRC) system to “continuously monitor rail vehicle wheel health by measuring vertical wheel forces via rail-mounted strain gauges.” Maintenance personnel will be alerted to high-impact forces caused by damaged wheels. A similar system is already installed in ARRC’s southern region.
  • Alaska Railroad Wasila Control Point ($480,082) will upgrade an existing intermediate control signal. The new complete control point will “halve a 13-mile gap in control points” and provide ARRC dispatch with “more operational options to keep passenger and freight trains moving while allowing maintenance-of-way work to continue with fewer disruptions.”

FRA published a Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) for the STC grants in May; applications were due in July.

The states of Alaska, South Dakota and Wyoming were eligible for STC grants. Hawaii was not. According to FRA: “The amount of STC directed funding for the states is established by the definition of ‘appropriate portion’ in 49 U.S.C. 22907(l)(2). That section defines appropriate portion to mean a share, for each state, not less than the share of the total Railroad Route Miles in the state out of the total Railroad Route Miles in the U.S., excluding from all totals the route miles exclusively used for tourist, scenic, and excursion railroad operations.” Hawaii has zero Railroad Route Miles or zero percent of the nation’s total.

For South Dakota and Wyoming, eligible projects “must be freight rail capital projects in those states that are on a state rail plan developed under Chapter 227, and that provide public benefits as defined in 49 U.S.C. § 22701(2).” For Alaska, eligible capital projects must be freight or passenger rail-related.

The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act authorized the STC Grants, “which provide directed grant funding appropriated for the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) Program and the Restoration and Enhancement (R&E) Grant Program for rail capital projects,” FRA said. “Federal funding for STC Grants must not exceed 80% of the total project cost. The required 20% non-federal share may comprise public sector—state or local—or private sector funding, or both.”

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