By Garrett Estrada
Ely Times Staff Writer
The Nevada Northern Railway could see itself with an operational rail line with back and forth freight to the mines if a $15 million TIGER grant if afforded to the historic foundation. According to the railway’s Executive Director Mark Bassett, all signs are point to this being the year they receive it.
“If we were to ever get it, this would be the year,” Bassett said.
His confidence comes from the outpouring of support the grant has received since the railway narrowly missed out on the money last year. Since that time, Bassett said the grant proposal has received support and attention on a congressional, state and local level. The Nevada Department of Transportation has even attached their name to the grant as it would potentially remove the need for over 7200 trucks to carry freight on highway US 93, in turn keeping the roadway in better condition.
“We really wanted their name on the grant,” Bassett said. NDOT’s involvement promotes the grant proposal from a local request to a state request, dramatically increasing the odds of receiving the money.
The grant comes from a $600 million government pool that is awarded on cycles to those they deem most worthy. Bassett called the process incredibly competitive as well over 100 requests came in from states all across the county last year, with only 21 receiving funding.
If awarded, the money would go to add railroad ties and overall maintenance of the currently out of service tracks between Keystone to Curry. The repairs would allow the railway to freight to and from the mine, benefitting the mine and the railroad immediately. But Bassett sees the project benefitting the Ely community in big ways in the long term.
“Those two rusty rails are our future,” Bassett said. “This would really be the chance to build the economic future of White Pine County.”
The strategy would be to diversify the economy of the area so it wasn’t solely reluctant on the mines remaining open. The ability to move freight by train would make Ely a very attractive area to become a distribution hub, according to Bassett, due to it’s proximity to major cities on the west coast and its access to rail, road and air. The executive director pointed to a similar situation in Reno that led to Walmart setting up a distribution center in the area, greatly benefitting the community’s economy.
To give their proposal the best chance at success, the railway contracted out a grant writer who has written multiple TIGER grant winning proposals. The fee for the grant to be written is $14,000 to the foundation, a drop in the bucket compared to what they hope to see return. The final day to submit the proposal is April 28, though Bassett said he expects everything to be finalized and submitted by April 21.
City Councilman, Railroad board of trustees member and former railroad engineer Marty Westland said that he thinks the Nevada Northern Railway should be more aggressive in the amount they ask for, specifically to replace the existing rails with heavier duty rails rather than just repair and maintain the ones there.
Bassett said that while that would be ideal, the estimated amount needed to replace the rails would be $60 million. He continued to say that while the foundation could ask for that higher amount in their grant proposal, it would so drastically reduce the likelihood of being granted the money it would not be worth the risk.
“When I asked the Department of Transportation what they thought the odds would be of us being awarded a grant that asked for $60 million, they just laughed,” Basset said.
Instead, Bassett hopes that the usage of the repaired rails will set in motion a long-term revenue plan to eventually fund the replacing of the rails “five to seven years” down the line. The winners of the latest cycle of TIGER grants are expected to be revealed sometime during summer.
“If we win, that would be a pop open the champagne bottle kind of celebration,” Bassett said.