Jacksonville needs to approve nearly $980,000 as part of plan to improve San Marco train delays

Jacksonville, FL — The Federal Railroad Administration is awarding Jacksonville $17.6 million to address congestion problems created by railroad traffic in the urban core- especially San Marco and the Southbank. But that only funds half of the project, and WOKV is tracking where the rest of the money will come from.

We first reported Friday when Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry revealed the grant award. The FRA has now confirmed the grant, with Jacksonville being one of 45 projects getting funding in 29 states through the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) Program.

“These investments in intercity passenger and freight rail will benefit surrounding communities, make grade crossings safer and improve service reliability,” says a statement from US Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.

That $17,615,500- which is the full amount that had been requested- only funds half of the project. Partners in this grant are paying for the rest, but the City of Jacksonville’s portion specifically has not yet been allocated.

The Florida Department of Transportation is on the hook for most of the rest of the tab- $13.7 million. An FDOT Spokesperson says those funds are committed, as part of this matching grant. According to the grant documents, CSX, Florida East Coast Railway, the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, and the City of Jacksonville are all contributing $978,875 each, to round out the sum. A JTA Spokesman says the Board has already approved their contribution. For the City of Jacksonville, that hasn’t been done.

WOKV asked when the Mayor will move forward with introducing that funding for approval by the City Council.

“We need more guidance on the timing of the grant before we answer but it could potentially end up in this budget,” says a statement from Curry’s Chief of Staff Brian Hughes.

The annual budget proposal is vetted for several weeks by the City Council, and then the amended package is approved ahead of the start of the fiscal year, October 1st.

The overall $35.2 million project consists of several phases, with the overall goal of addressing the “conflicts” created between the trains and vehicle, bike, and pedestrian traffic. Three major railroads interchange in the urban core, and because of some limitations in the current infrastructure, that interaction is not always smooth.

The grant application says FECR trains that leave the Bowden Rail Yard and head north are traveling on a corridor that’s not tied to a centralized dispatch system, so they are frequently required to hold south of the St. Johns River rail bridge, in order for tracks to be cleared and switches re-aligned. That backup means an obstruction at seven crossings daily, for anywhere between a few minutes to a few hours, according to the grant application. Not only is that an inconvenience for people living, working, and driving in the area and a safety hazard for people who lose their patience and cross in between the rail cars, but it creates potential obstacles for the medical facilities in that area and has a ripple effect more broadly on the movement of freight through the state and Southeast.

This proposal addresses these problems by adding 7,000 feet of staging track, to provide room for trains to wait in the yard, instead of out in the city. The track will consider future technology advances in rail engineering. Centralized Traffic Control improvements would also be installed on the FECR track and crossings, to allow better coordination.  This project also involves upgrading signals and track at the CSX/FECR Beaver Street Interlocking, modernizing switches and track in other areas, and installing quad gates at some high crash probability crossings.

The grant application says freight movement by rail will only continue to increase in the future, meaning this problem will grow if it’s left unaddressed.

“More than 80 percent of all goods moving south of Jacksonville throughout Florida and north to parts out of Florida will move through this yard. As the economy grows this interchange will become more congested having a ripple effect throughout the entire Florida freight network as well as the freight network throughout the southeast part of the country,” the grant application says.

CSX and FECR both commit to maintaining the upgrades through their useful lives, according to the grant application. CSX estimates they’ll see an additional $90,000 a year in those maintenance costs, while FECR estimates their tab to be an additional $120,000 annually.

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