April 04, 2011

Crapo: Rail Partnerships Create Jobs, Investment

Senator leads on legislation as Idaho economic efforts focus on rail

Washington, DC  - The improvement of short line railroads in Idaho is playing a larger role in economic development and job-creating efforts, says Idaho Senator Mike Crapo, who wants a resumption of rail investment incentives in the U.S. Senate.  Crapo is the lead Republican sponsor of the Short Line Railroad Investment Act, S. 672, along with Senator John Rockefeller (D-West Virginia).

The legislation renews incentives, and therefore jobs, for short lines to invest in track rehabilitation by providing a tax credit of 50 cents for every dollar spent on track improvements.  Crapo, who has toured rail rehabilitation efforts in Idaho, noted short line railroads are playing an increasing role in Idaho's economy and the movement of Idaho goods to market.  The Crapo legislation extends such incentives through 2017, providing for long-term planning and rehabilitation efforts that mean new jobs for the rail industry and improved access to markets for Idaho's shippers.

"Many Senators support this idea, and it is easy to see why when you look at the jobs, commerce and economic activity generated by these incentives for the rail and transportation industry," said Crapo, a member of the Senate Finance Committee with jurisdiction over tax issues.

Crapo pointed to a meeting he held this month in Twin Falls with leaders of the Southern Idaho Economic Development Organization (SIEDO).  The economic group is launching a "Southern Idaho Rail Estate Corridor" initiative, based on attracting new business and industry to locate along rail lines in south-central Idaho.

"More and more, rail access is critical to business success from a cost and efficiency perspective," said Jan Rogers, Executive Director for SIEDO.  "Primary companies that use the rail in our territory are grain companies, dairies, alternative energy companies, food commodities companies, plastic manufacturers and others.  This focus will put south-central Idaho in a position to market nationwide specific to the use of rail.  Knowledge of the building structures that are on the rail corridor and specific attributes of each is critical to the success of this program."

Officials with one of the largest short line rail operations in Idaho agree with the efforts.  Watco Companies serves a large area across southern Idaho and has been expanding and rebuilding short line track as commerce grows along the rail network.  Watco Transportation Services, based in Kansas, operates 22 short line railroads throughout the United States, and four in Idaho, including the Boise Valley Railroad and Eastern Idaho Railroad.  It also has operations in the Magic Valley and Palouse areas and rail repair facilities in Rupert and Idaho Falls.

"Every dollar invested in rail equals three dollars in economic output," said Rick Webb, Watco CEO. "Tax credits are value-added when you consider that everyone in the transportation cycle benefits. New jobs are created to perform the work; shippers receive the best service for their dollar and the public benefits from the efficiencies created by improved infrastructure."