The improvements, to be made over the next three years, will allow the Delair bridge and its approach ramps to continue carrying 286,000-pound freight cars and allow trains to increase their speed to as much as 25 m.p.h. on a dilapidated 18-mile stretch between Salem and Swedesboro.
The money also will help pay for a rail link to the under-construction Paulsboro port, scheduled to open in 2014.
Standing in front of construction crews building a port bridge, officials said the freight-rail project would create 1,700 construction and 3,500 port-related jobs.
The funding agreement was signed by representatives of Conrail, Salem County, and the South Jersey Port Corp.
U.S. Rep. Robert Andrews, a Camden County Democrat, called the project "essential to the manufacturing revival" in the regional economy.
State Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester), who has been a leader in the push to build the Paulsboro port, cited New Jersey's 9.8 percent unemployment rate in praising the creation of "critical jobs" with the federal money.
Most of the federal money, $12.5 million, will go to replace steel deck girder spans on the Delair bridge and its approaches.
The lift bridge, which is the primary freight link between South Jersey and the nation's heartland, was built in 1896 and faced possible weight restrictions if not upgraded soon, said Tim Tierney, chief engineer and vice president of Conrail, which owns and maintains it.
Tierney said the work on the Delair bridge would begin early next year and be completed in three years.
An additional $3 million of the federal funding will be spent on repairing and improving a rail bridge over Oldman's Creek in Salem County. The work is scheduled to be completed by April 2014.
Also, $2.2 million of the federal funding is earmarked for a rail link to the Paulsboro port. The link is to be built by July 2014.
And $800,000 is aimed at improving tracks between Salem and Swedesboro, to allow trains to travel faster than the current 5 m.p.h. The work is to be done by March 2015.
Contact Paul Nussbaum
at 215-854-4587 or email@example.com.