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TIGER grants help keep passenger trains running in part of Kansas, evan as federal funding for rail transportation wanes

by Laura Kliewer ~ December 2014 ~ Stateline Midwest »
For states interested in partnering with the federal government on capital improvements to passenger rail, the current options are severely limited. Since fiscal year 2011, the main federal grant program — the High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail program — has not been funded by the U.S. Congress.
That leaves only one funding source, a U.S. grant program known as TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery), which funds an array of transportation-related projects thought to have a significant impact on the nation, a region or a metropolitan area.
In the most recent round of TIGER funding, only one passenger-rail improvement project successfully secured a grant — $12.5 million to upgrade parts of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief route in Kansas and Colorado. Matching funds of $9.3 million will come from a mix of state, local and private sources.
According to Kansas Department of Transportation officials, the money will be used to replace the worst track on a 150-mile stretch between Hutchinson, Kan., and southeastern Colorado. Without the grant, passenger rail service for three communities in rural Kansas — Hutchinson, Dodge City and Garden — and in parts of Colorado and New Mexico would have been lost. (Without the upgrades, Amtrak had indicated it would reroute the Southwest Chief when its current contract with BNSF Railway expires in 2015.)
The Southwest Chief is one of the few public transportation options for much of central Kansas and eastern Colorado, and public support in these communities and states for continuing the service has been high. The TIGER grant and matching funds will allow trains to continue running at sufficient speeds for passenger rail operation and will give all parties more time to seek funding for additional improvements needed along the line.
During the first five rounds of TIGER, rail (both freight and passenger) received almost a quarter of all funding awarded (see chart). In the most recent round, announced in September, rail projects received a smaller overall share (11 percent).
In all, the U.S. Congress has appropriated $4.1 billion for six rounds of TIGER grants between FY 2009 and 2014. In the Midwest, funded projects related to passenger rail have included:
• FY 2010 — improvements to the Amtrak station in the Indiana town of Waterloo and creation of a new multimodal station in Moline, Ill;
• FY 2011 — preventing flooding along a section of track in North Dakota between Devils Lake and Churchs Ferry; and
• FY 2013 — completion of improvements to the Dearborn-Kalamazoo section of the Detroit-Chicago corridor and construction of a rail underpass that will benefit the Chicago-St. Louis corridor.
In addition, a project known as CREATE (Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency Program) has received $110.4 million in TIGER funding. One primary goal of CREATE is to reduce congestion on Amtrak routes serving the Midwest.

 

Article written by Laura Kliewer, director of the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission.