Finger Lakes Railway Leverages State and Federal Grant Opportunities

Competitive applications are on file to bring in stimulus funds to the region November 24, 2009 – Geneva, NY – Finger Lakes Railway Corp is actively and aggressively seeking grant funding for infrastructure improvements from many sources.  To date, the railroad is working on three freight rail bond grants through the NYS DOT (FY 2007 &  FY 2008), one FRA rail relocation grant (FY 2009), and one NYS multi-modal grant (FY 2008) all of which are being used for infrastructure improvements such as tie replacement, track construction, and sub-grade surfacing which bolsters the ballast support under the rail line. “Improving and maintaining our track is the most important part of keeping trains moving and serving our customers,” says Finger Lakes Railway General Manager, Steve Arnold. “Without a safe set of rails to run on, nothing moves.” Finger Lakes Railway is moving an average of 1,500 carloads per month over 118 miles of track, all of which is inspected and maintained by the Finger Lakes Railway Maintenance of Way Department.

With recent federal opportunities being administered through the American Recovery Revitalization Act (ARRA) of 2009, Finger Lakes Railway joined in as part of two separate grant applications for the federal TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grant.  According to the grant eligibility criteria, “Projects eligible for funding provided under this program include, but are not limited to, highway or bridge projects, public transportation projects, passenger and freight rail transportation projects, and port infrastructure investments.” 

 “This grant program is competitive with the entire national transportation industry,” reports Deb Najarro, Finger Lakes Railway manager responsible for researching different funding streams. “If we don’t propose an economically beneficial, well-rounded rail project, the money will go to some other mode, somewhere else.”  According the official website for TIGER applications (www.dot.gov/recovery/ost), there were a total of 1,380 applications received, representing projects in every state, with a grand total of $56.5 billion in funds requested.  There is only $1.5 billion available in funding. Of the total TIGER requests recieved, the rail industry represents only 10% of the money with 9% of the applications. 

“Again, we are in competition for transportation funding, not just with other railroads, but with all other modes of transport throughout the rest of the country,” Najarro states. “We think upstate NY is a worthy candidate for rail improvement funding.” 

One of the TIGER applications is sponsored by Seneca County and focuses on regional rail improvements. Components of the grant include rail acquisition and upgrade of 14 miles of track from Lyons to Geneva, grade crossing improvements at 10 rail crossings including general track improvements through the Village of Waterloo, and upgrading the line for national passenger rail service. This application also leverages NYS DOT monies already granted for improving the FGLK Geneva rail yard where the majority of freight rail cars are interchanged for delivery to and from local shippers. Local shippers represent over 3,700 jobs in the 6-county region served by the railroad. 

 A portion of this TIGER grant also offers a solution toward reducing truck traffic in the Finger Lakes region by including a rail option for the Seneca Meadows Landfill. Each inbound railcar to Seneca Meadows would eliminate 6 truck movements, in and out of the facility, over local roads. The second TIGER application is sponsored by NYS DOT and was submitted in conjunction with other NYS shortline railroads to procure a standard infrastructure improvement throughout the industry: an increase in weight capacity per railcar from 273,000 lbs to 286,000 lbs per each which matches the big railroads, i.e. CSX and NS, weight capacity. This increase enables shortlines and shippers to load cars heavier, thereby saving money on the overall cost of the move. Finger Lakes Railway invests over $1 million dollars of earned revenue annually toward track improvements. “If the rail system was not here, and we were not constantly working at improving efficiencies, these local companies would either increase their use of trucks or move their operations out of the region,” Arnold notes. 

Most Americans do not fully grasp the amount of freight moved by rail in this country. According to the AAR (American Association of Railroads) 1.9 billion tons of goods were moved in 2008. “We will continue to do our part to make sensible, safety-conscious, and economic improvements to our rail system because in the long run, that is what will bring new companies to this region,” comments Najarro. “And we believe that this is what will bring the whole country out of recession: more business.”