Class 1 and short line railroads in Texas could be the beneficiaries of the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) signed into law in November. The key word is could be.
While the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvement Program (CRISI) will get a generous boost of $1 billion a year much more than the $362 million allocated in FY 2021, its up to the state of Texas to step up to the plate and apply for the rail program grants.
"Texas has lost hundreds of millions of federal grant dollars, maybe a billion over the last decade", according to Texas Rail Advocates President Peter LeCody, "because the state hasn't put the first dollar into any sort of match required for competitive state-federal rail grants. There are dozens of projects listed in the Texas Department of Transportation's Texas Rail Plan that may never be accomplished because we lack even a 10, 20 or 30% match to go after those federal grants. A lot of other states benefit from freight and passenger rail improvements through competitive grants but Texas gets no benefit."
Texas voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2009 that created the Rail Relocation and Improvement Fund (RRIF), but state lawmakers have yet to put in a kickstart appropriation.
The rules and regulations for the five-year grant programs are being written by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Secretary of Transportation must report by May 2020 on how the grant programs will work.
The CRISI program allows states to apply for grade crossing elimination and improvement projects to reduce injuries and deaths at rail crossings. Texas railroad crossings are the most dangerous in the nation according to federal statistics. Based on preliminary Federal Railroad Administration data for 2020, Texas ranked #1 in grade crossing collisions with 191, along with 11 deaths and 69 injuries. Frequently blocked rail crossings are also targeted for funding as railroads run longer trains.
Many of the projects in the Texas Rail Plan could help regional and short line railroads to fund capital programs such as track upgrades, bridge replacements and purchase more fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly locomotives.