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U.S. Transportation Dept. rail improvement grants bring cash to New Mexico, Colorado


John R. Moses   | Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — A new Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad bridge across the Animas River in Colorado is among 50 projects in 29 states receiving grants from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).

New Mexico rail projects scored a total of $6.9 million for improvements to Amtrak’s Southwest Chief between Trinidad, Colorado, and Madrid, and for safety improvements at an industrial park in Doña Ana County .

The Animas bridge project was one of just two grants awarded in Colorado, the other being money for finishing “planning analyses for a future 180-mile intercity passenger rail corridor between Pueblo and Fort Collins, Colorado.”

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao announced the rail infrastructure and safety improvement grants on Sept. 23.

“This $320.6 million federal investment will upgrade U.S. rail infrastructure and enhance rail safety in communities across America,” Chao said in a release.

The cash comes from a nationwide pool of $320.6 million for rail projects that qualified for “competitive grant funding under the Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) Program,” the release stated.

The grant program is part of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act aimed at improving safety and efficiency, as well as reliability of intercity passenger and freight rail systems, the release stated.

“Rural projects, which have a minimum 25 percent funding requirement under the CRISI Program, received over 60 percent of the funds,” the release said.

The release also said many of those located in opportunity zones were "created to revitalize economically distressed communities using private investments."

The Animas bridge project was listed as being in one of those opportunity zones, as was AMTRAK’s Southwest Chief project in New Mexico.

Track safety improvements funded

In New Mexico, improvements along Amtrak’s Southwest Chief line between Trinidad, Colorado, and control point Madrid in New Mexico — between Lamy and Albuquerque – will convert “about 12.4 miles of bolted rail to welded rail between Lamy and CP Madrid, installs approximately 14,750 new ties over a 31-mile section south of Raton Pass and a separate 6-mile segment in New Mexico,” the release states.

The up to $5,629,610 grant also rebuilds timber decks on two railroad bridges, performs rock scaling in Raton Pass, Glorieta Pass and Shoemaker Canyon. The release said it “rebuilds three grade crossings where rail, gauge, and the pavement have deteriorated."

"The project eliminates imminent speed restrictions, generates savings in the maintenance of bolted rail and the close inspection and frequent repairs of aging railroad bridges, improves infrastructure, and reduces the risk of accidents caused by falling rock along the right-of-way,” the release stated.

A $1,320,000 grant for the Santa Teresa At-Grade Separation project in Doña Ana County “completes preliminary engineering and requirements necessary for Federal environmental review for a grade-separated overpass over the Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR) line at the northern entrance of two industrial parks.”

That project seeks to make it easier for traffic to safely exit and enter the industrial park and a recently-constructed UPRR facility.

“It’s critical that New Mexico has first-rate infrastructure to lay the groundwork for strong economic growth,” said U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations and Commerce, Science and Transportation Committees. “As a border state, New Mexico has a great opportunity to maximize commerce in Santa Teresa. And rail lines like the Southwest Chief link communities across our state and nation. That’s why I have always worked hard to make sure New Mexico communities have access to the infrastructure funding they need to support local economies and I will continue to fight in Washington for critical funding for all New Mexicans.”

"Investing in New Mexico's rail infrastructure is vital to our economic recovery and future growth opportunities," said U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich. “As our state continues to grow as an international trade center, Santa Teresa has tapped into the potential of our border region’s unique binational economy to create jobs and tremendous new opportunities for businesses in Southern New Mexico. I have also fought time and time again to keep the Southwest Chief’s passenger rail service through New Mexico up and running. I will continue fighting to protect this essential service for our communities and ensure the long-term viability of the route. I will keep doing everything I can to secure forward-looking infrastructure investments like this in every corner of our state."

Tourist railroad scores new bridge

In total, Colorado received $2.5 million for rail projects.

The Animas River Bridge Replacement project would receive up to $1.9 million. That way, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad can build a new bridge that will span the Animas River safely.

“The new bridge will be built approximately 15 feet upstream of the existing structure,” the release said, “and would allow the applicant to be in full compliance with FRA’s Bridge Safety Standards.”

The historic narrow gauge railroad connects Durango and Silverton.

Contact John R. Moses at 505-564-4624, or via email at jmoses@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription: http://bit.ly/2I6TU0e