The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is expanding a loan program aimed at providing long-term, low-cost loans to short line and regional railroads.
The changes will expand the eligibility requirements for the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing Express program, or RRIF Express. The pilot loan program seeks to reduce the time and costs associated with securing loans for projects that aim to modernize aging freight and commuter rail infrastructure.
“Expanding this financing program will strengthen the short line and regional railroad system, promote economic growth in rural communities, and boost America’s economic competitiveness,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao.
The following changes have been made to the program: increasing loan amounts from $50 million to $150 million; allowing more types of projects to be eligible for funding; increasing the option to finance the loan amount from 40% to 75%; and adding more flexibility in considering different categories of environmental review, according to DOT.
Credit risk premium assistance has also been increased from 5% to up to 10% of the loan value, capped at $5 million per application.
Letters of Interest will be accepted until all available financing is exhausted, DOT said. More information about the funding opportunity can be found here.
DOT’s Build America Bureau will administer the program, and it will work with the American Short Line and Regional Railroads Association (ASLRRA) to provide educational training and technical assistance for companies interested in applying for a loan.
The existing RRIF Express program helps short lines by cutting credit risk premium costs and adviser fees, according to DOT.
“The ASLRRA and the short line freight railroads we represent are excited about these improvements being rolled out as RRIF Express 2.0. The modifications combine to form a robust and significant improvement to the program and should allow for more short line projects to be presented and selected for funding,” said ASLRRA President Chuck Baker. “These projects will in turn allow short lines to better serve their thousands of shippers and the largely rural and small town communities that they serve with safe, efficient, reliable and environmentally sustainable freight rail service.”
Short line and regional railroads operate more than 47,000 route miles in the U.S., according to DOT, and they often provide the first and last mile of freight rail service.