Governor Tom Corbett announced this week 16 freight-rail improvement projects will benefit from a $23 million investment. Wheeling and Lake Erie Railway in Allegheny County will get $1.6 million to rehabilitate and expand track, prepare for a transload area, and install new turnouts, track, and ties.
In Beaver County, the Aliquippa Ohio River Railroad will receive $490,000 for upgrades. State Senator Elder Vogel (R-Beaver County) said the railway has been requesting the funds for more than a year now, and they'll be used for improvements on about 7 miles of railway.
"They want to upgrade the rails, they need new ties underneath the rails, they want to change the old manual switches to electric switches and that's just for convenience," said Vogel.
The upgrades may help the site's chances to land a new gas drilling petrochemical refinery, or "cracker" plant. Shell Oil Co. has been considering sites in Pennsylvania as well as Ohio and West Virginia for the plant, which is projected to cost several billion dollars to build.
"It's one of the things that would be able to create more jobs," said Senator Vogel, "the work it's going to take to do this, but also opening more facilities on the industrial site, will just be a good thing for more jobs."
But even if the plant doesn't come to fruition at the site, the upgrades will be beneficial, because more companies are moving toward hauling more by rail rather than truck because of deteriorating highway infrastructure.
"Rail would take a lot of trucks off the road. Up in the northeast with the Marcellus drilling up there, they're using a lot rail lines to haul in sand and gravel and stuff like that to build well site pads. It might take 20 truckloads to fill one rail car, so you're taking 20 trucks off the road," said Vogel.
Other recipients include Westmoreland County Industrial Development Corporation, which is getting $1.1 million to complete the second phase of a project, including bridge work, new track installation, a new switch, and drainage improvements.
The grants, approved by the State Transportation Commission, are distributed through the Capital Budget/Transportation Assistance Program. The grant funding state capital bond dollars in the General Fund budget, and is administered by PenDOT's Bureau of Rail Freight, Ports and Waterways.