Officials in Maryland want disadvantaged local residents to fill thousands of construction jobs as two major transit projects come online in Baltimore and the Washington suburbs in coming years, and are handing out grant money to get them trained.

On Friday, Gov. Martin O'Malley and other state officials announced a new program under which qualified companies or organizations will be selected to train local residents for entry-level, mid-level and skilled positions with contractors building the Red Line in Baltimore and Purple Line in Prince George's and Montgomery counties.

The "Preferred Training Partner" program will be funded through state grants. Companies and organizations interested in receiving the grants and conducting the training must apply under the first of three rounds of selection by Dec. 15.

"We remain committed to programs that strengthen our middle class, grow our businesses, and expand opportunity for hardworking moms and dads across our great state," O'Malley said in a statement.

The state has yet to select contractors for the two light rail projects. The 16-mile Purple Line will run from New Carrollton to Bethesda, and is a public-private partnership. The Red Line, which would run from Woodlawn to Canton, is seen as a candidate for a partial public-private partnership.

Combined, the two construction projects are expected to support 7,000 jobs, according to the Maryland Transit Administration, which will operate the light rail systems.

In a statement, MTA Administrator Robert Smith said the training program is "an important step in MTA's commitment to maximize the economic benefit" of the transit line projects to local populations.

Companies and organizations will be judged on whether they have a "demonstrated track record of success with education and training programs and/or the ability to reach into economically- and socially- disadvantaged communities," the MTA said.

The amount of grant funding that will be distributed will be based on demand but has not been determined, the MTA said. It will come from the Maryland Department of Transportation, the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, and philanthropic sources.

Nonprofit organizations, community colleges and labor unions are encouraged to apply.

Application materials can be found at purplelinemd.com or baltimoreredline.com.

krector@baltsun.com

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