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State to fund rail work at potential 'cracker' site in Beaver County

Gov. Tom Corbett has earmarked $490,000 for rail improvements at a Beaver County industrial park that has been mentioned as a possible location for a "cracker" plant that is expected to attract billions of dollars in investment and create thousands of jobs.

Royal Dutch Shell plc has been scouting locations in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia since it announced plans in June to build a chemical plant fueled by natural gas that takes ethane from shale gas and reduces it to ethylene, which is used in plastics.

A request for a state grant to improve the rail lines in the Aliquippa Industrial Park was made "a long time" before the site was discussed as a possible location for the cracker plant, said state Sen. Elder Vogel Jr., R-Beaver.

But getting the money won't hurt prospects for landing the project, he said.

"Work to make that site more attractive to industry has been going on for quite a while and improving the rail lines is part of that effort," Vogel said. "Certainly such an improvement would help make the industrial park more attractive for a cracker plant."

Corbett on Thursday announced $33 million in state grants for rail and airport projects across the state.

State and local officials have touted the Aliquippa Industrial Park as an ideal site for the cracker because it has many of the attributes Shell is seeking, such as 350 to 400 acres and access to the river and freight rail lines.

A number of government officials who were asked whether the governor's grant was a direct effort to land the cracker plant cited a confidentiality agreement they were asked to sign by Royal Dutch Shell.

Steve Kratz, a spokesman for the state Department of Community and Economic Development, said members of his agency are bound by the agreement.

While he declined to speak specifically about the proposed Shell cracker, he said "any infrastructure improvements help when competing for manufacturing and other industries."

Additional Information:

Other train, plane grants

Rail: Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway Co. -- $1.6 million for repair and construction of tracks, ties and turnouts; Fay-Penn Industrial -- $1.5 million for track construction for a rail/truck facility in Smithfield; Westmoreland County Industrial Development Corp. -- $1.1 million for track and switch installation and bridge and drainage improvements.

Airport: Pittsburgh International Airport -- $2 million to help build a stormwater treatment plant; Butler County Airport -- $1 million to replace the terminal's mechanical systems and the roof and siding on the maintenance hangar; Indiana County/Jimmy Stewart Airport -- $1.5 million to help relocate and extend a runway.

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