Staying on track: Federal Railroad official discusses Wilmington grants, projects

Staying on track: Federal Railroad official discusses Wilmington grants, projects

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - In recent weeks, the Federal Railroad Administration has announced two Wilmington projects will receive a total of $36.9 million in grant funding.

The bulk of that money — roughly $34.9 million — will go to the Piedmont Atlantic Intermodal Rail System, a North Carolina Department of Transportation project to expand rail access at the Port of Wilmington and rehabilitate the freight tracks as they make their way to Charlotte.

Included in the project are upgrades to 33 rail crossings along that path, along with two bridges. Construction is expected to begin in 2020.

“It’s essential to our state’s economy that cargo can move efficiently from the ports to other areas within North Carolina, and beyond," Jason Orthner, director of NCDOT’s Rail Division, said in a press release. “These improvements will reduce congestion on our highways and help North Carolina remain an economic leader both domestically and globally.”

The remaining $2 million was awarded to Wilmington’s Rail Realignment project, which aims to move heavy freight traffic out of the Wilmington city center and re-purpose those tracks for public transportation.

Former Wilmington City Council member Laura Padgett found out about the award, thanks to Senator Thom Tillis, and told WECT it is a concrete step in the right direction.

Interview with FRA Administrator Ron Batory

FRA Administrator Ron Batory spoke with WECT Wednesday about the grants.

“It’s an effort by the United States government to make sure that our infrastructure, in this case the rail network that serves our country so well, continues to be strong, and we strengthen and harden it’s level of utility to accommodate future growth," Batory said.

Batory said grants are objectively evaluated based on their economic viability, rather than the type of project. He said both North Carolina projects passed the test with flying colors.

While the effects may be most noticeable for those shipping freight or operating railways, Batory said the grants will lead to improvements that will have a lasting, positive influence on the region.

“Naturally, when you increase the level of utility of rail infrastructure, you’re ensuring your future in-so-far as continual handling of the commerce that you enjoy and hopefully more growth,” Batory said.

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