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Rail Line Project Gets Federal Funds
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More than $17 million will be coming to this area to help improve a rail line in operation from Riverbank to Standard, a line that also runs through Oakdale.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) recently announced the awarding of federal funds for the Sierra Northern Railway’s track improvement program. The railroad will receive $17,415,000 to fund 55 miles of track and safety improvements through the Department’s Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) Grant Program. The project is estimated at $35.8 million, with the railway paying the rest of the cost for the six-year rehabilitation/upgrade.

“This is a huge win – we’re talking about literally millions of dollars to build our infrastructure here in the Valley,” said 10th District Congressman Josh Harder, who was among the legislators requesting federal funds to assist with the Central Valley project. “Track improvements make our communities safer and create jobs in the process – we’ve been overlooked for years, but now that’s finally changing.”

The investment will allow Sierra Northern to replace 90,000 aging railroad ties of the line’s 175,000 railroad ties and improve safety at 10 railroad crossings, the most likely site of railway accidents. These upgrades will increase the capacity, safety, and efficiency of the line, which transports over 6,000 carloads annually. The railroad moves a variety of essential goods to the agricultural communities and small cities in Eastern Stanislaus County including canned goods, crushed rock, lumber, propane and more. Officials said the train cars on the Sierra Northern line later link up with longer trains running on both the Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroads. The Sierra Railway line is also ‘home’ to the popular Railtown 1897 excursion trains in Jamestown and formerly was used by the Sierra Railroad Dinner Train based out of Oakdale. Also along the line is the former Riverbank Army Ammunition Plant, now the Riverbank Industrial Complex, which has some businesses on site that ship goods by rail.

“These investments in intercity passenger and freight rail will benefit surrounding communities, make grade crossings safer and improve service reliability,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao.

Rep. Harder worked directly with Sierra Northern officials to support their application for federal funding, including writing a letter of support to DOT requesting full funding for the local project.

“We’re appreciative of Congressman Harder’s partnership on this project and excited to bring the first large scale update in efficiency, safety, and capacity to our rail line,” said Ken Beard, President of Sierra Northern Railway. “This grant will help us to better support and serve current customers while also expanding our abilities to create new jobs, strengthen the economy, and build new business relationships.”

Sierra Northern Railway is one of only 600 short line railroads in the U.S. These lines provide critically needed “last mile” access and delivery of goods like propane to rural communities, while taking trucks off the road and reducing the burden on state roadways. The railroad was formed in August 2003 through the merger of two Northern California shortline railroads: the Sierra Railroad Company and the Yolo Shortline Railroad. Sierra Northern currently operates approximately 75 miles of track in northern California through the heart of a number of California’s prime industrial areas, including in Stanislaus County.

The CRISI grant program directs critical investment to rural America. By directing at least 25 percent of available funds towards rural communities, the Department is able to safely connect and upgrade rural America’s rail infrastructure.