October editorial: It's all money and rainbows – Railway Track & Structures


Written by Bill Wilson, Editor-in-Chief

They are harvesting rainbows, aren’t they?

It must be quite the bounty these days, squeezing the five colors of that miracle arch for oodles and oodles of gold coins. How else do you explain how this country tosses bank vaults over things like natural disasters, foreign aid (think Ukraine), and other causes?

Hey, when it directly impacts the industry I cover in a positive way, I’m not going to question what is going on behind that Magic Door. In September, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, hands worn from all of that harvesting, announced record-breaking funding via the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvement (CRISI) grant program.

Yes, President Biden’s Infrastructure Law (which mostly contains money out of nowhere—ok, rainbows) more than triples funding for the CRISI effort. The program also allocates at least 25% of total funds for projects in rural areas.

“Freight rail is a critical part of our supply chains, and when shipping costs come down, families pay less for goods,” said Buttigieg. “We’re thrilled to announce the biggest round of funding ever to make both passenger and freight trains across America safer, faster, and more reliable.”

Now, allow me to speak federal government PR for just a minute: Higher funding levels also will accelerate progress in building up infrastructure resilience and strengthening the supply chain, which in turn makes it less expensive to transport goods. The influx of new grant opportunities will allow FRA to invest in a wide range of projects that will mitigate passenger and freight rail congestion; enhance multi-modal connections; and improve and establish new intercity passenger rail corridors. Furthermore, CRISI grants are a major source of funding for short line railroads, whose operations bolster local economies and are crucial for supply chain fluidity. These nationwide investments will advance the Department’s key goals of infrastructure safety, efficiency, economic vitality, equity, and resiliency.

OK, thanks for sticking with me. Wow, that all sounds simply, well, magical. Don’t get me wrong, the idea is certainly worth a spot on the federal mantle. My concern is how much of the funding will actually be applied to the new, shiny items the U.S. DOT and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) are gushing over? Unfortunately, there is a bad monster in the funding forest named Inflation. You can hear the roar just about everywhere you turn. In New York, officials announced in September that the long-anticipated Gateway Project will cost billions more because of inflation. The day I am writing this I came upon a story about a new passenger rail line in Triangle Research Park in North Carolina where the cost has jumped significantly because inflation is stomping all over it.

Whether CRISI money will be used for these two projects or not, the fact is this monster is terrorizing every project out there. Unphased by all of the commotion, FRA Administrator Amit Bose said the funding will “help launch our country’s new rail revolution.” I also want to point out that CRISI grants will focus on safety projects such as grade-crossing enhancements and rail line relocations.
Again, it all sounds like trumpets and applause, but how much will go towards actually increasing track capacity (high-speed rail?), which is what this country really needs, instead of just maintaining the status quo?

It is my hope that every single penny goes toward making this country great again when it comes to rail movement, but all that money sure does seem dreamy, like pennies from heaven.
In reality, it will all just add to our nation’s debt, like so many other things, and much more money will be needed to tame the beast. In the meantime, do you think there such a career as a Rainbow Spotter?



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