The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has selected three rail capital projects in Alaska and South Dakota for Special Transportation Circumstances grants totaling more than $4 million.
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.*)
In this round of grant funding, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities will be awarded up to $1.44 million for the Alaska Railroad Corporation (ARRC) Avalanche Control project. The funds will support the replacement of an M101A1 howitzer avalanche control process with a Remote Avalanche Control System (RACS) above ARRC’s Portage Tunnel Door 4 in Portage Valley, Alaska, a remote location about 50 miles southeast of Anchorage. The project will build six fixed RACS installations consisting of five hanging charge towers and one launch charge tower, plus one weather-monitoring station. “These enhancements will allow ARRC to improve the mitigation of avalanche danger within an essential transportation corridor while better protecting railroad employees, railroad passengers, the traveling public, transported goods and materials, and existing transportation infrastructure,” FRA reported. ARRC will provide a 20% match.
The South Dakota Department of Transportation will receive up to $2.60 million for two projects:
- Ringneck & Western Railroad (RWRR) Efficiency and Growth Project: A grant of up to $1.80 million will go toward construction of two 1,500-foot transload tracks to transport lumber and aggregate; and construction of a 558-foot industrial lead track and a concrete maintenance pit in an existing locomotive maintenance building. Ancillary project work includes a loadout spur, six turnouts, and a roadway for vehicular and transloading equipment access. According to FRA, the project “will improve locomotive maintenance and provide an area to transload goods from rail to truck, improving efficiency for the products being moved and the area’s economy.” RWRR, located just east of Plankinton, S.D., will provide a 40% match.
- Rapid City, Pierre, & Eastern Railroad (RCP&E) Increasing Rail Resilience Project: A grant of up to $800,000 will go toward upgrading and installing eight culvert structures between Fort Pierre and Rapid City, S.D. RCP&E’s Pierre-Rapid City (PRC) Subdivision is a 163-mile-long single-track main line between these two cities. Following completion of the project, FRA said, “the new structures will better withstand future flows from the storm water basins at their location. This in turn will improve the resilience of the PRC Subdivision and service reliability for all customers along the line.” RCP&E will provide a 20% match.
“This program delivers on our commitment to ensuring diversity in our infrastructure investments by expanding opportunities in rural communities,” FRA Administrator Amit Bose said. “These directed grants will create local jobs, grow local economies, and increase rail safety and efficiency in states where geography and other circumstances create unique needs.”
FRA published a Notice of Funding Opportunity for the Special Transportation Circumstances program on Dec. 1, 2021. Funding for eligible projects is made available through the Consolidated Appropriations Acts of 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021, according to the agency, which noted that awarded federal funds may cover up to 80% of the total project cost.
* According to FRA’s Dec. 1, 2021 Notice of Funding Opportunity: “There are currently four states that either do not have Intercity Passenger Rail service or are not physically connected to rail systems in the U.S.—Alaska, Hawaii, South Dakota, and Wyoming. However, as explained below, only three of these states (Alaska, South Dakota, and Wyoming) are allocated funds under 49 U.S.C. 22907(l).
“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.
“The calculations for each state’s available funding amounts follow. In the U.S., there are 138,477 Railroad Route Miles. Alaska has 521 Railroad Route Miles or 0.38 percent of the nation’s total, South Dakota has 1,851 Railroad Route Miles or 1.34 percent of the nation’s total, Wyoming has 1,868 Railroad Route Miles or 1.35 percent of the nation’s total, and Hawaii has 0 Railroad Route Miles or 0 percent of the nation’s total.”