While neighboring Victorville is growing its air cargo industry, Hesperia last week received a big boost to its rail industry when the city received a $2 million check from a federal agency.

The funding, which was presented by U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Sandy K. Baruah last Friday morning, will pay for the G Avenue Industrial Rail Lead Track project. About one mile of railroad lead track with a parallel runaround track will be built in the city's I Avenue Industrial Area, thanks to the EDA funds.

The project is expected to bring hundreds of new jobs - some of the higher skilled positions should provide higher than average incomes - increase the city's tax base, bring stability and promote economic growth and diversity, according to city officials.

"The G Avenue Industrial Rail Lead Track project will hopefully bring development, jobs and investment," Mayor Mike Leonard said during the presentation in City Council chambers.

The rail project, which is expected to be completed by 2012, will give a huge boost to the city's industrial park area, added Steve Lantsberger, the city's director of economic development.

The project will provide the infrastructure to develop rail spurs, a spur for loading rail cars known as "team track," and a load facility for businesses requiring rail access. When completed, the new track and related infrastructure will open numerous possibilities for businesses previously unable to use rail due to the prohibitive cost of procuring a dedicated rail spur.

By improving its rail accessibility, city officials believe businesses will increasingly look to Hesperia as a prime place to relocate or expand. That likelihood is increased by the city's proximity to the I-15 Freeway, which along with the area's rail system leads to the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles. Those ports, which are hubs for cargo ships, are doors to the rest of the world.

In 2006, U.S. exports accounted for $128 billion in goods to more than 200 countries, according to Baruah, a senior member of the Bush Administration's economic team.

"Exports are growing at an incredible clip," Baruah said.

Despite the large size of the funding, Baruah stressed that the Bush Administration wasn't going to meddle in how the city uses it; local determination should and would prevail. "We are not here to tell you what you should do to drive your local economy."

But Baruah was clear in his praise for the rail project.

"You are ensuring your continued linkage to the worldwide marketplace," Baruah said.

Baruah also applauded Lantsberger's team for creating the grant, which later won an award. The process was extremely involved and consisted of both an application and a pre-application.

"You don't get a grant of this size without a lot of elbow grease from a lot of people," Baruah said.

According to Lisa LaMere, economic development analyst for the city, the project will go out to bid in six to 10 months with construction beginning within 24 months. City officials are hoping to move the project ahead of schedule, she added.

Peter Day can be reached at peter@hesperiastar.com.