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Montana Rail Link will get $3.5 million in federal money for the design of a new safety system on a track that runs from near Billings to Idaho. 

The Federal Rail Administration announced $326 million in grants under the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Program and the Special Transportation Circumstances Program earlier in June. 

The safety system, positive train control, is an automated system designed to stop a train before a crash related to human error. The system is supposed to be able to identify potential problems and warn train operators, and then stop the train if the operator doesn't act.

The 2008 Rail Safety Improvement Act required that most railroads use the system, but the grant notes that Rail Link's project is voluntary. The grant will pay for the design and environmental review of the system, but not the implementation of it. 

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The affected track stretches from Jones Junction east of Billings to Sandpoint, Idaho — 655 miles. 

Out of the $326 million, about one-third was given to rural projects, according to federal officials. The Rail Link grant is Montana's only share of the money. 

“These are the partnerships that help rural and urban communities thrive economically,” said FRA Administrator Ronald Batory in a press release. 

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