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The Biden administration is awarding millions of dollars to expand and improve the nation’s rail tracks in an effort to reduce freight congestion and speed up the supply chain as shippers decry what they see as poor service.
The Transportation Department announced Thursday it will spend almost $370 million in grants for 46 projects in 32 states and Washington, D.C. As much as $15.7 million will fund new tracks at the Port of Baltimore terminal. The long-awaited Gateway commuter-rail tunnel project in New York and New Jersey isn’t receiving funds from this program.
The administration is trying to fix supply chain bottlenecks, including freight rail delays that have slowed food and energy deliveries. The Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements grants will also aid passenger projects, including high-speed and intercity rail.
“They’re going to strengthen our national supply chains, helping to fight inflation, and control costs for shippers and consumers,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told reporters on a call Wednesday.
The Federal Railroad Administration received more than $1.1 billion in requests for the program, leaving many unfunded. The infrastructure law (Public Law 117-58) triples the money for the program for the next five years, with $1 billion annually.
Almost half the total money will go to rural areas, exceeding the 25% minimum Congress mandated, the administration said.
Gateway Under Review
Along with Baltimore’s grant, as much as $10.9 million will go to a rail improvement project in Kansas that aims to help biodiesel and agriculture transportation by boosting the weight capacity and the allowed speed by 15 miles per hour. About $87.6 million of the money will be spent for new intercity passenger rail projects.
A proposed intercity passenger rail project from Tampa to Orlando won as much as $15.8 million from the grant. Brightline, which operates rail between Miami and West Palm Beach, said it is contributing matching funds for the project.
The Northeast Gateway commuter-rail tunnel project in New York and New Jersey will be eligible for other funds, transportation officials told reporters when asked whether Gateway would receive any of the money in this round. A Gateway Program spokesperson also said the project didn’t apply for this grant program.
“We are right now in the process of reviewing applications for the federal-state partnership grants, which do have a direct connection to the Northeast Corridor, including the Gateway program,” Federal Railroad Administrator Amit Bose said.
Gateway is critical for Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, which stretches from Washington to Boston and is known to be the most congested rail route in the US. The program includes building a new commuter rail tunnel under the Hudson River and replacing the existing one.
Administration officials said they’re working with project sponsors overall to rein in construction and labor costs that have risen with inflation.
“In the current atmosphere that we’re in, I mean, nobody is not going to be affected by higher prices,” White House Infrastructure Coordinator Mitch Landrieu said. “Investments in the supply chain are actually designed to reduce inflation and to lower cost.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Lillianna Byington in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org