A new implementing accord for a $12.9 million grant, just signed by the U.S. Department of Transportation and Kentucky's Transportation Cabinet, means work can begin on a stimulus project to upgrade five freight short line railroads over three states.
The R. J. Corman Railroad Group, which owns the short lines, said the Appalachian Regional Short Line Project will cost $22 million to rehabilitate "hundreds of miles on five unconnected short line railroads in Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia," that serve about 125 shippers.
The DOT is kicking in nearly $17.6 million in all from a discretionary grants account for work of special national or regional importance, which was set up in the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Corman is putting more than $4 million into the project and Kentucky $200,000.
The original grant was awarded last February, but was subject to final implementing agreements between the DOT and the states. The DOT reached a similar accord in August with West Virginia, which will receive $1.77 million of the grant total. Tennessee is receiving $2.8 million under the plan.
Corman said upgrading the freight rail network would make the short line shippers more competitive, draw more freight onto rail from roads and thereby reduce state highway maintenance needs, and help improve fuel efficiency for freight moves in the region. The construction will include work on bridges and tunnels, upgrades to roadway track crossings, plus track and crosstie replacement.
The DOT said those improvements "will speed up delivery time, allowing goods to reach their markets more quickly and at less cost." It is also expected to spur freight shippers "to shift the transport of hazardous commodities and chemicals from truck to rail," the DOT said.
Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez said "this project is about increasing efficiency to boost economic competitiveness and make it easier for businesses to ship their products. It's also about making better use of all transportation modes through targeted investment."
The department said the money will also benefit several economically distressed counties in Appalachia. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said it is an example of the Recovery Act "helping to create jobs, reinvigorate the economy and build a world-class transportation network that will allow businesses to grow, which is particularly important in hard-hit areas."
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