Railroad Widening Project Called Critical

SNOW HILL – The local
economy could suffer a severe blow if Worcester County does not receive federal
funds to widen the Snow Hill freight railroad line, which carries grain for
poultry feed, to accommodate larger rail cars.

Expanding the railroad
to carry larger cars, which can transport more grain, is vital to keeping the
poultry industry in Worcester County alive, said Commissioner Virgil Shockley,
a farmer who raises Tyson chickens and grows corn and soybeans.

The smaller rail cars
that currently travel the freight track can carry about 263,000 pounds of
grain. The newer, larger cars carry 286,000 pounds of grain at one time. Some
shippers do not use the smaller rail cars any longer.

Grain shippers would
need to use 24,000 tractor-trailers to move the same amount of grain by road,
on Route 113, Redden said.

“The amount of money
that’s actually piped into the local economy is just staggering, with one
poultry company,” Shockley said, referring to payments to farmers and
processing plants.

The grain train is a key
economic cog for Worcester County. The smaller rail cars are less efficient and
increase Tyson’s cost of doing business.

Tyson’s total economic
boost to Worcester County is valued at about $83 million, according to

“You’re looking at a
good portion of the economic engine of Worcester County right here,” Shockley

The Tyson feed plant in
Snow Hill would be able to add another grain tank and hire more workers if the expansion
happens, Shockley said, because it could receive more grain.

The feed plant might
even add soybeans to its operation, Shockley said. Currently, soybean growers
must deliver their crop to Salisbury.

Last year, Worcester
County applied for federal TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic
Recovery) funds that were part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act,
but was not successful. The highly competitive grant process last year awarded
funding to only 51 of 1,500 applicants. TIGER II funding is now available.

Worcester County hopes
to sweeten its application with $2 million in matching funds.

“What we’ve done was
gone back to private industry and asked for additional funds,” said Worcester
County Economic Development Director Jerry Redden at Tuesday’s Worcester County
Commissioner meeting.

The county would
contribute $100,000 from the Economic Development Energy funds.

TIGER II grant funding
will be awarded by the end of September.

The grant will once
again be highly competitive, staff said, with probably 100 projects of the 500
to 1,000 projects expected to apply, receiving TIGER II money.

“It’ll be a tough deal,”
said Redden.

Commissioner Judy Boggs
urged Redden to include the necessity of the track widening for the local
poultry industry in the application.

“That will be the very
first paragraph,” Redden said.

The Snow Hill Freight
Line extends 27 miles, from Frankford, Del., to Snow Hill.

The freight rail track
has not seen any major renovations since 1982.

Passenger service on the
line could be possible in the future. The U.S. Department of Transportation is
studying passenger service from Wilmington to Berlin, Redden said. The study
will take a year or two to be completed and will then have to be reviewed
before being released for public review.