Delmarva Central Railroad awarded grant

Delaware’s congressional delegation was “all aboard” today to announce the approval of an $18.8 million grant to Delmarva Central Railroad. The funds were awarded to improve the nearly 100-year-old rail line and bridges from Delaware to Virginia. From left are Michael Scuse, Delaware secretary of agriculture; Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Del.; and Sens. Chris Coons and Tom Carper, D-Del. At far right is Mike Arntz, who represented Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

HARRINGTON — The red-and-yellow Delmarva Central Railroad train engine sitting behind U.S. Sens. Tom Carper and Chris Coons and Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester in downtown Harrington didn’t have to blast its horn to say what the railroad industry does for Delaware.

The trio of Democratic delegates from Delaware did that themselves today as they happily announced that Carload Express, the parent company for the Harrington-based Delmarva Central Railroad, had received a federal grant for $18.8 million to help fund a $27 million project that will refurbish three antiquated rail bridges, upgrade more than 100 miles of track and improve nine grade crossings in Delaware and Maryland.

Sen. Coons said it was a matter of teamwork between Delaware’s delegates that helped provide the grant funding for the railroad.

“A lot of how our delegation works is by being on different vital committees, and Sen. Carper is one of the most senior, longest-serving members of the committee called Environment and Public Works,” Sen. Coons said. “Well, this is public works. It is the infrastructure side of it where he is a key authorizer. I’m a member of the Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee — so it’s called pitching and catching.

“I may be a Phillies fan, and (Sen. Carper) may be a Tigers fan, but it’s important that we’re able to pitch and catch and then throw to the base.”

He added: “This is the story about what is a $27 million project that is $18 million in federal money that is partnering with private investment by a private company that sees the value in Delmarva, but it’s also the story of a company (Delmarva Central Railroad) that sees the value in Delmarva. Freight rail is incredibly important for the security, safety, profitability and sustainability of the American economy.”

The DCR grant is part of the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Program. The grants total nearly $250 million and were authorized as part of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act to improve infrastructure safety, efficiency and reliability.

“Like most small businesses, we always have more demands on our capital then we actually have funds to (take care of projects),” said Mark Rosner, president and CEO of Carload Express. “This grant is going to allow us to upgrade three bridges — two of them are over 100 years old — as well as upgrade over 100 miles of track that will enhance safety, enhance productivity and make our service even more reliable than it is today.

“Billions of dollars of economic activity depend on this railroad. Each year, we move over 5 billion pounds of freight serving a variety of the industries that count on safe and reliable rail transportation to support their businesses and the thousands of jobs that they generate,” he said.

Mr. Rosner added that the trains move many different commodities on its rail lines up and down the Eastern Shore, such as stone for construction or roads, agricultural products and feed ingredients for the poultry industry, propane that heats houses and chicken coops, sugar, plastic, chemicals, pulp board that makes cardboard boxes and many other things.

“We are very grateful for all of the support we’ve received from all levels of stakeholders who benefit from vibrant and robust rail freight operations on the Delmarva Peninsula, including customers, economic development entities, local governments and partner railroads,” he said. “We wish to express special thanks to Delaware Sens. Carper and Coons for their continued support for safe and efficient freight rail service on the Eastern Shore.”

Sen. Carper recalled going in front of his grandparents’ house in West Virginia where — when he was around 5 years old — he and his sister would try to get passing trains to blare their horns by pumping their arms in the air.

He said that one day, his grandfather, who worked for B&O Railroad, stopped his train near the home and allowed the young Carper and his sister to come aboard and ride for about 500 feet. They promised they wouldn’t tell their grandmother about the experience — but they did anyway.

“Since that moment, I have loved trains,” Sen. Carper said. “You’ve heard about win-win. This is about five or six wins, all in a row. This is a great example of what we can do when we work together. This is teamwork. This is our delegation.”

He said investing in the railroad helps things such as economic development, job creation, reducing greenhouse gases and fighting climate change.

During the multiyear project, DCR will be refurbishing three antiquated movable rail bridges over navigable waterways in Middletown (Chesapeake & Delaware Canal Bridge), in Seaford and in Pocomoke City, Maryland (the Cassatt Bridge).

It will also be upgrading more than 100 miles of track between Porter, Delaware (south of Wilmington), and Lecato, Virginia, and improving nine grade crossings in Delaware and Maryland, which will result in improved safety and road surface conditions for the public.

The DCR operates 188 miles of rail line in Delaware, Maryland and Virginia. The lines run from near Porter, south to Hallwood, Virginia; and from Harrington to Frankford, with branches to Milton and Gravel Hill. DCR interchanges with Norfolk Southern, as well as the Maryland & Delaware Railroad in several locations on the Delmarva Peninsula.

DCR is managed locally from offices in Harrington. Freight operations are based out of Harrington, Dover, Seaford and Delmar.

Michael Scuse, secretary for the Delaware Department of Agriculture, said keeping the railways running efficiently is important to Delaware’s agricultural industry.

“The magnitude of this cannot be overstated,” Secretary Scuse said. “Many of us take the railroads for granted, but let me say that without that railroad, agriculture here on the Delmarva Peninsula would be a lot different than what you’re seeing today. We would not have the poultry industry that we have today if it weren’t for the railroad.

“We only raise about half of the grain that it takes to feed our poultry industry. The rest of it has to come in by train,” he said. The fertilizer and nitrogen that feed our crops, a lot of that comes in by train. Without the railroad, this state and this peninsula would look a lot different than it does today. Agriculture is extremely dependent on a great working railroad system.”

DCR started operating back in December 2016.

“Today, we operate 188 route miles of track on the Eastern Shore,” Mr. Rosner said. “We’re small business. We only have 40 employees from the Delmarva Peninsula, yet we’re critical to the economy here.

“Our operations take over 200,000 truck movements off Delmarva highways every year. If you took the daily amount of trucks and stacked them up end to end, there’d be over 6 miles of trucks on our roads every day that come off because of the railroad. That reduces greenhouse gas emissions. We can move 1 ton of freight over 500 miles on a single gallon of fuel.”

Mr. Rosner added: “Since we’ve taken over the lines in Delmarva, we’ve invested millions of dollars operating them, as well as for infrastructure, and as a railroad operating privately owned infrastructure, we will continue to invest heavily year after year because we have to. The railroad ties that you see on the track have a finite life of about 40 years, so they constantly have to be replaced. We’ve got a number of bridges that are quite old. Some of them are over 100 years old that need funding.”