Wisconsin Unveils Grants, Loans for Freight Rail

Wisconsin Unveils Grants, Loans for Freight Rail

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker unveiled over $20 million in state grants and about $5 million in loans to short line freight railroads and shippers to upgrade rail infrastructure in the state.

Much of the money will go into improvements on state-owned tracks used under lease by private operator Wisconsin & Southern Railroad, and for the state's Department of Transportation to help buy some track in Milwaukee from Wisconsin & Southern so that a consortium of counties can keep operating it to connect with other rail lines.

After his election last fall, Walker vowed to halt a federal grant-funded project to develop passenger train service in a freight corridor between Milwaukee and Madison, saying it would cost the state budget too much in the long run. He tried to get the Obama administration to let him apply the $800 million grant to other state needs, but Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in December instead redirected that money and a $400 million grant that Ohio rejected to passenger rail programs in other states.

But while Walker did not favor more Amtrak service, he said "freight rail plays a critical role in Wisconsin's transportation system, moving some 150 million tons of commodities every year." The $25.5 million in grants and loans that Wisconsin is now making on its own, the governor said, "will help retain jobs and spur economic growth in many rural communities while strengthening our economy."

Six loans through Wisconsin's Freight Railroad Infrastructure Improvement Program total $4.9 million, while five grants add up to $20.6 million out of a Freight Railroad Infrastructure Improvement Program.

Besides several projects involving Wisconsin & Southern, grant recipients include Escanaba & Lake Superior Railroad. Those receiving loans under the state program include shippers Zenda Grain, Millard Grain and Duffy Grain.

-- Contact John D. Boyd at jboyd@joc.com.