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Monday, November 3, 2008

Our public rail system and the jobs it provides are at risk

From a column by State Senator Dale Schultz:

As Wisconsin employers increasingly turn to our state’s rail roads to get their goods to a global market, state residents and communities enjoy the benefits of keeping jobs here, cleaner air from less truck emissions, and safer roads with less truck traffic.

Those benefits make our state owned railroad system a great investment and explain why I believe, despite a tough fiscal climate, we should increase funding to preserve the infrastructure of our public rail system in the next state budget.

Our public railroad system, which serves numerous communities, has been a great benefit by helping employers compete in the global market and keep family supporting jobs in Wisconsin.

The system also helps many villages and cities with their community development goals by generating increased tax revenues as employers invest in plant expansions and equipment.

In the past two years, in just the region I represent as a state senator, our public rail system has led to new jobs and tax base through major projects in Boscobel, Reedsburg and Rock Springs. For numerous state communities, rail service has been an essential asset to save jobs and create new jobs.

As rail shipping replaces thousands of truck trips, our roads last longer, our carbon footprint shrinks and we all breathe cleaner air.

The state helps communities and rail shippers save freight rail service through its Freight Rail Preservation Program. FRPP grants fund up to 80 percent of projects to rehabilitate tracks and bridges on public rail lines, buy essential rail lines so they aren’t abandoned, and save rail corridors for future rail service and sometimes as recreational trails in the interim.

While freight rail traffic is growing in Wisconsin, FRPP funding is falling far short of the needs. In the current state budget, FRPP funds met less than ten percent of the needs, forcing delays of badly needed projects on public owned rail lines. Since 1992, most FRPP funding went to add rail lines to our public system as a last resort to avoid loss of rail service for communities.

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