U.S. Rep. Steve Womack (R-AR) joined representatives from Arkansas & Missouri Railroad (A&M) for a tour and policy discussion May 12.
A&M took the group from Ft. Smith to Rudy, Ark., in one of the railroad's excursion cars, stopping along the way to tour the Arkansas River Bridge. The bridge is on of three rail bridges that would be repaired through a planned project with the city of Ft. Smith, which applied for a Fostering Advancements in Shipping and Transportation for the Long-term Achievement of National Efficiencies (FASTLANE) grant. President Trump signed an omnibus appropriations bill that allocates $850 million for a second round of FASTLANE grants. A short portion of A&M, including the Arkansas River Bridge, is included in the Strategic Rail Corridor Network, which provides access to essential military bases and supports installations for the deployment of military equipment during emergencies and natural disasters.
Stakeholders say the project would prevent disruptions to rail and river traffic, which threatens to put tens of thousands of extra heavy trucks on I-49 each year and ensures that the fast-growing Northwest Arkansas region is reliably, connected to national freight networks.
"I am pleased to support the city of Ft. Smith's 2017 FASTLANE grant application to repair three rail bridges, including the critical Arkansas River Bridge," said Rep. Womack. "It is vital we ensure the future viability of rail transport through the western Ozarks."
The group also discussed the Building Rail Access for Customers and the Economy Act (BRACE). The BRACE Act will allow the nation's small, local freight railroads like A&M to increase its reinvestments to upgrade and expand the "first and last mile" of transportation infrastructure, benefiting Arkansas shippers that depend on affordable freight access.
A&M, which is a member of the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association, transports construction materials, metals and food products through its freight business and also offers special excursion train services.