Port of Memphis lands state grant for major rail upgrade

By Updated: January 17, 2019 4:00 AM CT | Published: January 16, 2019 6:04 PM CT

The Port of Memphis has snagged a $1.7 million grant to add new railroad tracks at the public terminal on Presidents Island and significantly boost rail service.

The state grant will enable a $1.9 million project that’s expected to increase rail capacity about 15 percent and clear the way for unit trains of 100-plus cars to access the island.

The Competitive Rail Connectivity Grant from the Tennessee Department of Transportation was announced Wednesday, Jan. 16, by the Economic Development Growth Engine of Memphis and Shelby County.

In letters supporting the grant application, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, state lawmakers and U.S. Reps. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, and David Kustoff, R-Memphis, called the public terminal a critical piece of the city’s infrastructure.

Construction is scheduled to run from June 1 through July 30, adding 4,900 feet of new track and four new switches and creating space for 60 to 70 more rail cars to be handled at the terminal.

The improvements come as the Port Commission and terminal operator Watco work to create a long-range redevelopment plan for the terminal. Officials believe the rail expansion will provide a spark for construction of a new dock, storage/warehouse facility and liquid tank farm.

Presidents Island is at 100 percent business capacity and has not had new rail capacity or public rail access for decades, the Port Commission says. The commission has a reciprocal arrangement with the Canadian National, Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Union Pacific railroads.

The additional track will serve the terminal’s existing tenants Mid-South Milling and Watco, along with tenants elsewhere on the island’s 950 acres of industrial property. Watco is building an industrial rail scrap transfer facility at the terminal. The other terminal tenant is Buckeye Pipelines.

A contract has been negotiated to move large quantities of scrap from the Midwest to the terminal, where it will be transferred to barges for shipment to the Great American Steel plant in Osceola, Arkansas, according to the Port Commission.

The commission says negotiations are underway for a rail-truck-water transfer facility at the terminal, and there have been discussions about fertilizer trains using the terminal.

Port officials say added rail space should make Presidents Island more attractive for companies that need rail connections to the East and West coasts.

The project is expected to reduce demand for crosstown and regional truck trips and to “significantly enhance marketability for customers that seek to utilize the heavy volume transfer of bulk products from rail to barge,” the commission says.

Giving Presidents Island the ability to serve unit trains also would be significant. A unit train — a longer train carrying the same type of commodity from start to finish — is considered the most efficient mode of land transportation.


Port of Memphis Presidents Island rail service freight transportation
Wayne Risher

Wayne Risher

Business news reporter, 42-year veteran of print journalism, 34-year resident of Memphis, University of Georgia alumnus and proud father and spouse of University of Memphis graduates.

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