A passenger line extension in central Florida, removal of at-grade crossings in Texas and a new engineering program at a historically Black university in Baltimore are all beneficiaries of more than $368 million in railroad infrastructure grants being announced Thursday by the Biden administration.
The administration is billing the funding as a way to help fight inflation in the shipping business.
"We've got the largest and most extensive rail network in the world here in the U.S., and Americans deserve world class rail service to go with it. So it's urgent for us to modernize our railroad infrastructure to get people and goods where they need to get faster, safer and more affordably," Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg told reporters on a White House call Wednesday previewing the grants.
Buttigieg joined with White House infrastructure coordinator Mitch Landrieu and Federal Railroad Administrator Amit Bose in previewing the funding recipients from the final batch of Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements funding under the extended Obama-era infrastructure law known as the FAST Act.
The bipartisan infrastructure law, which President Joe Biden signed into law last year, will significantly boost the rail infrastructure funding starting next fiscal year.
"Thanks to the bipartisan infrastructure law, we are going to see historic levels of funding for this oversubscribed program for years to come," Buttigieg said.
Some of the grants will be down payments on projects that will be seeking additional funding in future years. One such project is in Florida, for extending the Brightline passenger train line on the I-4 corridor connecting Orlando and Tampa. The grant to be announced Thursday, which is being matched by Brightline, is related to engineering for the project.
"It really also shows the opportunities that the bipartisan infrastructure law now opens up, and that's why we're leveraging this round of CRISI to go to some passenger rail projects like this Brightline extension and also make these projects eligible for future rounds," Bose said.
Some of the funding will go to rehabilitate at-grade crossings — intersections at which a highway crosses a railroad at-grade — or even eliminate them. Bose said seven such crossings in Harlingen, Texas, are expected to be removed.
In addition to the program to be highlighted Thursday, Bose noted there will be an additional focus on at-grade crossings in the years ahead, since "the bipartisan infrastructure law has a $600 million a year grade crossing elimination program that's specific for that purpose."
Other types of projects funded include efforts to replace aging railroad bridges and tracks, to reduce or eliminate curves that slow down freight and passenger trains and to upgrade accessibility for people with disabilities.
The funding will go not only to physical infrastructure, but to human capital as well. That includes more than $4 million for a new partnership between the University of Delaware and Morgan State University in Baltimore, to help Morgan State launch a railroad engineering program that the Biden administration hopes will be a model for other historically Black colleges and universities.