Grant money allows for $17.2 million railroad project

Published: Jun. 13, 2019 at 1:46 PM EDT
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(06/13/19) - Lake State Railway just learned federal grant money will allow them to move forward with a big track replacement project.

The Saginaw-based rail company has more than $17.2 million dedicated to the project.

As announced by Congressman John Moolenaar, Michigan's senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, Lake State Railway will get more than $8.6 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation. Moolenaar worked with Congressman Jack Bergman and Congressman Dan Kildee to secure the federal grant to improve infrastructure and safety on railroad tracks.

Along with the federal money, additional money is coming from Lake State Railway and the state. "State of Michigan's committed $3.75 and we've committed $4.85 plus," said John Rickoff, president and CEO of Lake State Railway.

Rickoff said the work will focus on the Mackinaw Subdivision, specifically between Pinconning and Grayling.

The track is more than 80 years old.

"It was made at a time when the technology that exists in today's world isn't there, so it's becoming brittle. And as we increase tonnage up there, it's prone to failure," Rickoff said.

The new track will be one continuous rail, welding together, using American made steel. Currently the track is bolted together.

Other new additions include hot box detectors, which can find internal issues that aren't visible to the naked eye. "Checks the train as it goes by to see if there's anything wrong. A hot axle, wheel problem, that type of deal," Rickoff said.

Rickoff said the upgrades are necessary because of increasing business.

Lake State Railway hauls everything from agriculture to military traffic to building supplies.

A recent expansion by a company in Grayling has also increased the railway's business. "ARAUCO just built North America's largest particleboard plant in Grayling," Rickoff said.

Down the road, Rickoff said the government is predicting a freight increase of 40 percent by 2040. "That's a huge increase, so imagine if all that just went to the highways."

Altogether the $17.2 million will allow them to improve 30 miles of track in key locations.

"Gives you a little more comfort that what you're doing out there is going to turn out the safe way," Rickoff said.

While a construction timeline is not complete just yet, Lake State Railway hopes to begin the work next spring.

The project could take two to three years to complete. The track will remain open during construction.