FRA awards Partnership Program grants to rail projects in Michigan, Connecticut

Oct. 26, 2020
The Partnership Program provides financial assistance to repair and rehabilitate intercity passenger railroad assets.

A pair of bridges in Connecticut and a section of state-owned railroad in Michigan will see infrastructure improvements made thanks to grants from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) through the Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair program (Partnership Program). 

The two states have been awarded a total of $160.4 million of the $291 million FRA had available through this round of Partnership Program awards.

The Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT) and Amtrak will apply more than $144 million in two grants to replace two rail bridges, each more than 110-years old.  

CTDOT, in partnership with Amtrak, will use a $79.7-million Partnership Program grant to replace the 124-year-old moveable Norwalk (Walk) River Bridge. The original bridge was completed in 1896 and currently carries 175 trains on its four tracks every day. The bridge is prone to operational failure and stakeholders say it is vulnerable to harsh weather conditions. It will be replaced with two independent movable lift spans. The new bridge will be more resilient against extreme weather, while improving the dependability of rail service.

This is the second grant awarded for use on the Walk Bridge this year. FRA awarded a portion of the FY19 Partnership Program grants in May, of which CTDOT with joint applicant Amtrak was awarded $29.9 million for the bridge. FRA made the remaining FY19 and FY20 funds available through the latest round. 

Amtrak, in partnership with CTDOT, will use a $65.2-million grant to replace the 113-year-old Connecticut River Bridge. The bridge is mandated by law to remain open for marine traffic between May and September except when trains approach. Amtrak explains the more than 3,000 movements per year has put high demands on the bridge’s aging components. The replacement bridge will be a modern and resilient new moveable bridge immediately to the south of the existing structure. The replacement bridge would maintain the two-track configuration and existing channel location and provide a bascule moveable span with additional vertical clearance for maritime traffic.

“The Walk Bridge and the Connecticut River Bridge are both over a century old, and they are major chokepoints on the Northeast Corridor—affecting travel within our state and well beyond our borders,” said U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT). “Connecticut’s economic competitiveness depends in large part on its connection to Boston and New York.”

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) added, “Rail passengers along the Northeast Corridor deserve speedy and reliable service on Amtrak, New Haven Line, and Shoreline East.” 

In Michigan, the Michigan Department of Transportation will use the $15.57 million awarded to make infrastructure improvements along a portion of state-owned track that will assist in delivering 110 mph passenger train speeds along 136 miles of track. The work includes replacing 80,000 feet of rail, rehabbing 42 horizontal curves and making safety enhancements at 16 public and eight private grade crossings between Ypsilanti and Jackson.

“The future of mobility includes a strong rail network. This major grant will help make needed enhancements and safety improvements to an important stretch of railroad infrastructure between Ypsilanti and Jackson,” said U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI-12). “This critical support lays the track to establish intercity passenger trains in the region that provides safe, dependable and accessible services. By working together at the federal, state and local level, we can make smart investments and build a better future for railroad transit in Michigan.”

The competitive Partnership Program was designed to benefit publicly or Amtrak-owned or -controlled passenger rail infrastructure, equipment and facilities. Eligible applications of the funds may involve railroad infrastructure, equipment or facility assets such as track, ballast, switches and interlockings, bridges, communication and signal systems, power systems, highway-rail grade crossings, stations, passenger cars, locomotives, maintenance-of-way equipment and yards, terminal areas and maintenance shops.

Congressional offices have been notified of the grants and the official tally of the grant awards is expected from FRA later this week.

About the Author

Mischa Wanek-Libman | Group Editorial Director

Mischa Wanek-Libman serves as editor in chief of Mass Transit magazine and group editorial director of the Infrastructure and Aviation Group at Endeavor Business Media. She is responsible for developing and maintaining the editorial direction of the group and is based in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Wanek-Libman has spent more than 20 years covering transportation issues including construction projects and engineering challenges for various commuter railroads and transit agencies. She has been recognized for editorial excellence through her individual work, as well as for collaborative content. 

She is an active member of the American Public Transportation Association's Marketing and Communications Committee and serves as a Board Observer on the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC) Board of Directors.  

She is a graduate of Drake University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with a major in magazine journalism and a minor in business management.