It's easy to think of the Minnesota Department of Transportation as an agency that only concerns itself with highways and vehicular traffic.  However, that's not exactly the case.

The state agency oversees transportation in multiple forms. In fact, their defined mission statement details that they seek to "(p)lan, build, operate and maintain a safe, accessible, efficient and reliable multimodal transportation system that connects people to destinations and markets throughout the state, regionally and around the world".

That's why it should come as no surprise that the agency is looking to make an investment for rail service improvements across the state.

Thomas-john Veilleux
Thomas-john Veilleux

MNDOT is inviting railroads, rail shippers, cities, and counties across the greater State of Minnesota to apply for funding from the $6.5 million in available grants.  This grant money is designated for projects that will improve freight rail service that supports economic development.  The funds will be available through the 2022 Minnesota Rail Service Improvement Program (MRSI).

A special legislative session approved the funding in 2021.  Legislative officials are also expected to make more funds available for the program in the second half of 2022.

According to Peter Dahlberg - the Office of Freight and Commercial Vehicle Operations Program Manager, the initiative fits directly into what MNDOT tries to accomplish:

"Reliable freight rail service is essential for the economic well being of Minnesota's communities and businesses, and MNDOT continues to recognize this by providing this unique funding opportunity to improve rail service in the state."

So what sort of projects would qualify for the funding grant money from the MNDOT?  The agency provided examples such as "railroad tracks, roadbeds, turnabouts, bridges, fixed loading and unloading equipment, and buildings". There is a stipulation that the MRSI funding can not be used for "regular or recurring maintenance activities, incomplete or phased projects or engineering, design, and right or way acquisitions".


MNDOT will accept applications from qualifying entities through March 1.  At that point, a Project Selection Team will "review and score eligible applications".

Since 1976, the MRSI program has administered more than $62 million in loans and grants for capital improvement projects to strengthen the state's shipping industry. The expansion into freight rail service to support economic development happened in 2017.

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