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July 1, 2019 12:00 PM, EDT

FRA Awards Grant to Georgia Central Railway

Georgia Central RailwayGeorgia Central Railway by Robert Reynolds

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Dublin, Ga., may only have a population of a little over 16,000, but its importance to the movement of freight through the Peach State has earned it $8 million in grants for improvements to its rail infrastructure.

A $4 million grant from the Federal Railroad Association was given to the city through its relatively new Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Program, which was matched by the Georgia Central Railway.

Georgia Central Railway is a 211-mile short-line freight railroad operating between Macon and Savannah and transports freight, including chemicals, farm and food products, fertilizers, forest products, metals, minerals and stone, plastics, and pulp and paper.

The grant “enables the railroad to complete a series of track, bridge, tie and surfacing improvements to accommodate industry-standard 286,000-lb. rail cars for its entire corridor,” it said.

Additionally it said it will increase speeds from 10 mph to 25 mph for a portion of the line.

“This will directly help all of the communities and customers served by our railroad and allow safe and efficient transport of high-capacity freight cars,” Andy Chunko, the railroad’s president, said in thanking state and local officials.

Aside from bolstering Georgia business, larger rail cars and higher speeds will impact trucking.

“Accommodating 286,000-pound rail cars is important because it enables shipments originating or terminating on the Georgia Central Railway to maximize shipper capacity over the rest of the North American rail network,” said Michael Williams, spokesman for Genesee & Wyoming, the parent company of Georgia Central Railway. “Increasing capacity in each rail car can help reduce highway congestion.”

RELATED: Brookfield Buys Rail Operator Genesee for $8.4 Billion

Still, trucks are the most-used mode for moving goods across North America, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Of the $1.1 trillion in freight flows in 2017 (the latest data) trucks transported 63.3%, accounting for $720.8 billion.

Rails are the second-largest mode, moving 15.3%, or $174.1 billion, the bureau reported.

CRISI grants fund projects that improve the safety, efficiency and reliability of rail systems. More than one-third of the $326 million in grant funds were awarded to rural projects such as those in Georgia.

CRISI is authorized under the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act.

FRA Administrator Ronald Batory

Batory

“These are the partnerships that help rural and urban communities thrive economically,” Federal Railroad Administration Administrator Ronald Batory said in announcing the awards June 12, a week ahead of testifying before the Senate Commerce Committee to defend the FRA’s cooperation with the FAST Act. He said funds will be critical in improving railroad safety.

“We have great opportunity in our industry to exploit avenues of technology to reduce risk and enhance safety,” Batory said during the Commerce Committee hearing June 19. “Even though I think we’re safe today, we can be safer tomorrow.”

So far, some $188 million in CRISI grants has been awarded for 45 projects in 29 states.

“These investments in intercity passenger and freight rail will benefit surrounding communities, make grade crossings safer and improve service reliability,” said Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.

Georgia Central Railway interchanges with larger railroads CSX at Savannah and with Norfolk Southern Railway at Macon.