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ND seeks federal grant for railroad rebuild

GRAND FORKS -- North Dakota is seeking a federal grant to finance its portion of a proposed $100 million project to rebuild a flood-damaged 20-mile span of railroad track and two bridges near Churchs Ferry.

Amtrak's Empire Builder passenger train service was halted through northern North Dakota several times earlier this year because of flooding and high water.

The line provides both passenger and freight service between Fargo, Grand Forks, Devils Lake, Rugby, Minot, Stanley and Williston.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., met with U.S. Transportation Secretary Roy LaHood Wednesday in support of the state's application for a $33 million federal TIGER grant, a competitive program designed to bolster the nation's transportation infrastructure and economic competitiveness. TIGER is an acronym for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery.

"The Devils Lake rail project shares costs, demonstrating real collaboration among partners, and serves both passenger service for Amtrak and freight service for BNSF," Hoeven said. "It clearly enhances economic competitiveness for the entire region, and has both statewide and national benefits."

Earlier this year, BNSF committed to funding one-third of the $100 million project and to work with Amtrak to help finance another one-third. North Dakota would need to provide the remaining third.

BNSF owns the track, leasing it to Amtrak for the Empire Builder passenger service.

BNSF no longer operates freight trains through the flooded Churchs Ferry area. It serves grain terminals and other businesses from either Grand Forks or Minot, then returning to those cities.

Churchs Ferry is located about 25 miles west of the city of Devils Lake.

LaHood told Hoeven Wednesday that TIGER grants are extremely competitive. The program has about $18 billion in requests from across the country and $500 million available for projects.

Hoeven also spoke with LaHood in support of the state's application for funding to advance the Williston Bypass Project, which would route traffic around the city to relieve traffic congestion that has resulted from heightened oil industry activity in the region.

"Oil and gas development in the Williston Basin is helping to create jobs and boost the nation's supply of domestic energy, but residents are feeling the impacts of rapid economic growth on their community," Hoeven said. "Support for this bypass project will not only help provide the infrastructure they need for continued growth but also bring much-needed relief to the businesses and families who live and work in the region."

Bonham is a reporter at the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.