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Eastern Iowa company receives $7.2 million grant to modernize rail line serving Cedar Rapids
Federal funds will help Iowa Northern increase safety, reliability, speed
CEDAR RAPIDS — An Eastern Iowa railroad company has been awarded a $7.2 million federal grant to upgrade its line that serves industries in the Cedar Rapids area.
The grant to Iowa Northern Railway Company is one of 46 projects in 32 states and the District of Columbia being announced today by U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.
“These projects are going to enhance safety,” Buttigieg said during a conference calls with reporters.
The federal Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements grants will be used for “improving rail infrastructure, fixing track that is sometimes a century old, speeding the movement of goods from ships to rail to shelves, supporting communities across the country from our largest urban centers to our rural areas.”
The projects funded will increase supply chain resilience and fluidity, support short-line railroads, invest in new technology and safety advancements, and benefit rail industry workforce development and training activities — helping to create jobs and increase economic growth, Buttigieg said.
The improvements will help fight inflation and control costs for shippers and consumers as well as create jobs, he added.
Iowa Northern plan
For Iowa Northern, formed in 1984 on a section of the old Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad Co. dating to the 1800s, it’s exciting to be a part of the $369 million in modernization grants, said Joshua Sabin, director of administration for the privately owned Class III short line railroad headquartered in Waterloo.
The grant, he said, will help finance what will be about a $14 million “permanent investment in the economy of Iowa.”
The improvements to 27 miles of Iowa Northern’s 253 miles of track — “to increase speed, safety, reliability and efficiency” — will be the company’s largest one-time undertaking, Sabin said.
“We've been able to upgrade much of our track, and this is getting us near completion of our mainline between Cedar Rapids and Manly,” he said.
After the Rock Island bankruptcy, “there used to be weeds growing up between the rails and farmers’ fences crossing our line” in the 1980s and 1990s, Sabin said.
Iowa Northern, which has about 115 employees, serve mostly agriculture-related industries such as ethanol producers ADM and POET. It also moves John Deere tractors, Tyson frozen foods and egg products, Sabin said.
In addition to the mainline, Iowa Northern has two branch lines — one from Waterloo to Oelwein and the other from Forest City to Belmond.
Iowa Northern will replace 39-foot sections of 110- and 112-pound jointed rails with new 115-pound continuous welded rail delivered in 1,600-foot lengths and welded together into continuous strands.
The improvement, which Sabin explained will eliminate the “clicketyclack” of steel wheels on rail joints, will enable the track to achieve a Federal Railroad Administration Class 3 status, allowing train speeds up to 40 mph.
Where those pieces meet “is often a potential spot for an issue with rail,” Sabin said. “So this increases reliability as well as speeds, and we can move a lot faster and increase our efficiency.”
As a result of the bipartisan infrastructure package approved by Congress, which nearly tripled funding for critical rail infrastructure to $1 billion a year for the next five years, Buttigieg predicted “historic levels” of funding for freight and passenger rail lines.
“Americans deserve a world-class rail system that allows people and goods to get where they need to go more quickly and affordably, while reducing traffic and pollution on our roads,” Buttigieg said.
“We're proud to award these grants to improve passenger rail for riders and strengthen the freight rail that underpins our supply chains and makes our economy work.”
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