Leahy Helps Vermont Score A Major $20 Million Investment In Rail Infrastructure

. . . Federal Grant Will Fund Replacement Of Rail Bridges Between Rutland And Bennington

 U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) announced Thursday that the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) will receive a $20 million federal award from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) grant program.  The funding will support the rehabilitation or replacement of 31 rail bridges along 53 miles of the Vermont Railway.  The work will be done on the southern section of the state-owned rail line that runs in Vermont between Rutland and Bennington, continuing on to Hoosick, N.Y.  Leahy hailed the award as significant for the impact it will have in bolstering the state’s economic development and climate change goals.

Leahy, the Vice Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, has made BUILD and other infrastructure investment programs high priorities in the annual Appropriations bills that fund the Department of Transportation.  Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao called Leahy Thursday to inform him of the Vermont award.

Leahy said:  “This investment in Vermont’s rail infrastructure is a win-win for business and the environment.  By increasing the capacity of the VT Railway, Vermont businesses will have better access to rail shipping, which in turn will lead to fewer trucks on our roads.  As a country and a state we need to prioritize these types of infrastructure investments that will lessen the transportation sector’s reliance on fossil fuels.  It has been one of my priorities to ensure that rural states like Vermont have access to these programs, and I’m pleased that this project will be funded through that work.”

The federal funds address a top priority in the 2015 Vermont State Rail Plan, increasing the capacity of rail bridges to carry more freight.  The work funded through the grant will increase the weight ratings for rail bridges to support the industry standard for freight car loads of 286,000 pounds.  Most of the rail lines in Vermont can support weight loads of only 263,000 pounds.  Because the rail line cannot currently accept heavier traffic, some shippers opt to use costlier, inefficient freight options that increase truck traffic on Vermont roads.  Vermont Rail Systems, which operates the Vermont Railway, reports that the company is often forced to turn away traffic because railcars that would otherwise be shipped on the company’s railroads have been loaded heavier than can be accommodated on state-owned rail lines.

Increasing the bridge capacity to the industry carload standard will allow the railway to connect businesses in Vermont’s most populous city of Burlington and towns all along the western side of Vermont, to the PanAm junction in Hoosick.  This connection will open access to major Class I railroads in the northeastern United States and offer shipper savings to businesses in Vermont and New York.  This project also will serve local businesses which require cost-effective shipping for bulk commodities and agricultural and natural resource products that are crucial to rural economies.

As Vice Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Leahy fought to include $1.5 billion in funding for the BUILD program in the FY18 Omnibus Appropriations Bill, an increase of $1 billion over the previous year.  The Trump administration’s budget requests for both FY18 and FY19 sought to eliminate the program.  Particularly important for Vermont, Leahy included language in the bill ensuring that 30 percent of the funding for the BUILD Program would be prioritized for rural areas. 

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