A $5.7 million federal grant will help rehabilitate an aging rail line used by farmers in Eastern Washington.

HighLine Grain Growers, Pacific Northwest Farmers Cooperative and Northwest Grain Growers were to welcome the BUILD grant with a ceremony May 28 at the HighLine Grain Growers shuttle loading facility in Cheney, Wash.

At 297 miles, the Palouse River and Coulee City Railroad is the longest short-line freight rail system in Washington. It serves Grant, Lincoln, Adams, Spokane and Whitman counties.

Officials and members of Congress were slated to attend the ceremony.

Farmers and PCC Rail Authority have worked with the state Department of Transportation to recover three rail lines that are at various stages of disrepair and neglect, said Paul Katovich, CEO of HighLine Grain Growers.

“If you slow the trains down enough, you can get across almost everything, but you lose a lot of the efficiency,” Katovich said. “We’re basically trying to make up for that lack of infrastructure investment over the past few decades and get caught back up.”

According to the Washington State Department of Transportation, the condition of the system has continued to degrade over the last 10 years. Traffic doubled between 2007 and 2012, but operator revenue and state funding have not been sufficient to hold conditions at the level they were in 2003.

A majority of the timber bridges on the system are within five to 15 years of the end of their useful design life. About 90 miles of rail on the system will likely need to be replaced in the next 10 to 20 years.

WSDOT estimated in 2015 the total cost of the project would be $58 million.

Katovich expects the bulk of rehabilitation work under the federal grant to occur in 2020.

He said work will continue on the rest of the system.

He credits those involved in the process for working to protect and improve a system created by previous generations.

“We’re here as stewards of this platform to make sure it’s here for those generations that follow us,” Katovich said.

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