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Grants Aid Repair of Damaged Iowa Railroad Bridges

Fri June 26, 2009 - Midwest Edition

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) Railroad companies have gotten the go-ahead to pump several million federal dollars into repair and construction of bridges that were swept away in the catastrophic flooding of 2008.

One railroad said the money came just in time.

The Federal Railroad Administration handed out $15 million in flood relief grants through its Rehabilitation and Repair Program in May, including three projects submitted by the Iowa Department of Transportation.

The largest amount, about $6.9 million, went toward the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City Railway Co. bridge in Cedar Rapids. Railroad officials called the bridge a critical link between corn growers and the Archer Daniels Midland processing plant in Cedar Rapids.

The federal money will cover 80 percent of the bridge’s reconstruction. The Cedar Rapids and Iowa City Railway Co. stopped moving freight on the bridge on June 10, 2008, and weighed it down with about 20 hopper cars filled with rocks, but the bridge succumbed to the floodwaters and plunged into the river on June 12.

Since then, the Cedar Rapids bridge and another bridge in Waterloo that received federal money to rebuild have been forced to improvise.

“This is really just getting it back to making them whole prior to the flood,” said Tammy Nichols, director of the Iowa Office of Rail Transportation. “Those two in particular served some key rail lines in the state. Without those in place, they’ve had trouble serving customers and have to do a lot of rerouting.”

Rerouting of nearly 300 miles in some cases, Nichols said, driving up shipment costs and slowing down transport time for the railroads.

The federal money spent on the bridges serves taxpayers and the state, Nichols said, by restoring “rail connectivity” to eastern Iowa communities and businesses that rely on the railroad for jobs. She said the railroad bridges are also critical to interstate commerce for Iowa.

Construction on the Cedar Rapids bridge began last August and should be completed by early July, said Cedar Rapids and Iowa City Railway marketing director Jeff Woods.

“We were hoping to have it done by now, but the river’s back up and we can’t get in there to finish it off,” Woods said.

The railroad moves about 20,000 carloads across the bridge each year, Woods said, about 25 percent of the company’s total traffic. And those 20,000 carloads carry about $3 million worth of shipments, the majority of it corn to the Archer Daniels Midland Co. corn processing plant in Cedar Rapids. The railway also moves pulp board, starches, syrups, lumber, plastics and various chemicals across the bridge.

When the bridge went down, an Archer Daniels Midland spokesman said the company was forced to switch to other, less-direct rail lines and pay for truck deliveries.

In addition to the Cedar Rapids bridge, the federal government also allotted about $2.1 million to the Iowa Northern Railway’s Waterloo bridge and $459,200 to restore a flood-damaged railway yard in Keokuk.

Before the federal money came through, the Iowa Department of Transportation gave $4 million in loans to seven Iowa railroads, and the state included an additional $1 million allocation for the Waterloo bridge.

But Woods, the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City Railway spokesman, said the federal money is coming just in time for the railroad. Archer Daniels Midland will complete work on a dry-mill ethanol plant next year, capable of producing 275 million gal. of the corn-based fuel each year.

“They’re expecting to bring more corn over that bridge,” Woods said. “So it’s kind of like, we’ve got to get this thing done so they can have access to corn to make the ethanol.”

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