Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Railroad Relocation Grants

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) announced Friday that they were requesting applications for grants for the relocation of railroad facilities. These grants are being issued under the Capital Grants for Rail Line Relocation and Improvement Projects. Applications will be accepted starting 9-15-08. FRA will continue accepting applications until 11-28-08 or until the available funds have been allocated.


Protecting Hazmat Railcars in Urban Areas


One of the common security issues associated with shipping hazardous chemicals by rail is the fact that most rail lines transit multiple urban areas. This means that an attack on a chlorine railcar, for instance, in such an urban area would have a high probability of very high casualty event. Rail yards in urban areas are an even more problematic because of the length of time that many of these cars sit on sidings waiting for a freight train to be assembled. Stationary railcars are more vulnerable to attack than are moving railcars.


 There has been a concerted effort by many concerned parties to get hazardous chemicals, particularly poison inhalation hazard (PIH) chemicals, routed around major urban areas. Unfortunately, for historical reasons urban areas have grown up around rail lines and rail yards. This makes it nearly impossible to completely route these materials around urban areas.


One solution would be to move some of the rail facilities outside of the urban area to reduce the risk of attacks on railcars. Secure rail yards could be constructed in more isolated areas, allowing hazardous material railcars to be marshaled and formed into mini-trains that could be picked up after a main freight train has exited the urban area. This would both make it harder for terrorists to gain access to the most dangerous railcars and make them a less tempting weapon of mass destruction.


Construction Grants


These grants were originally authorized by the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) (Pub. L. 109-59, August 10, 2005) but the funds for them were not appropriated until this year. Congress appropriated $20 Million for construction grants this year (and earmarked $5 Million of that). Priority will be given to proposals that show significant private and public funding for the project.


Realistically, $20 Million does not go very far when funding major construction projects, and moving rail yards or constructing new rail lines are definitely major construction projects. The grants may make the difference, however, between a justifiable project and a project that gets shelved.

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