West Memphis beefing up deepwater port's rail service with an eye toward creating jobs

A $10.9 million upgrade of West Memphis port facilities is under way, increasing connectivity among river, road and rail traffic and offering potential for up to 3,000 new jobs.

Arkansas, Crittenden County and West Memphis leaders on Thursday broke ground on the project to beef up rail service to the Port of West Memphis and expand the International Rail Port Logistics Park.

West Memphis won a federal grant in 2012 to install heavier-duty rail serving its Mississippi River port and to build a transload facility where commodities such steel and timber can be transferred between road and rail.

Construction began in September on improvements to a 14,000-foot rail spur that the city bought from the Union Pacific Railroad in 1991.

The heavier rails will enable heavier rail cars to traverse the spur, which is expected to increase the volume of freight moving through the port. The project calls for about 2,600 feet of rail to be extended into a 40-acre transload facility.

The project, scheduled to be completed next March, will open about 2,000 acres of vacant land for development of rail-served industrial space and is expected to eventually spark new job creation.

Connecting two major interstates (40 and 55), two major railroads (Union Pacific and BNSF) and the city’s deepwater port means will yield more competitive transportation options for manufacturers and logistics firms, city economic development director Phillip Sorrell said.

“This is one of the few locations in the Midsouth where this is possible, where all three modes are totally accessible and reliable,” Sorrell said. “Whether gas prices are high or river levels are low, shippers have multiple options regardless of conditions.”

June 27, 2012 Barge traffic passes down the Mississippi near the West Memphis Port where an $11 million U.S. Department of Transportation grant will help boost into motion a $27 million project to extend rail lines providing water-to-rail capability at the port. (Jim Weber/The Commercial Appeal) (Photo: Jim Weber, Jim Weber)

Mayor William Johnson added, “This will help the City of West Memphis and the Port of West Memphis in so many ways. It’s the missing link for the city to make full use of its rail and port capabilities.”

Sorrell said the most immediate beneficiary will be Arkansas Logistics, which annually moves an estimated 2,000 rail cars of rolled steel coils out of its West Memphis facility along the rail spur.

“It will definitely benefit them,” by allowing for heavier loads, Sorrell said. “It allows us to handle heavier cargos for shipment across it,” he said.

State Sen. Keith Ingram was West Memphis mayor in 1991 when the city negotiated the purchase of the abandoned rail spur known as the Friday-Graham rail.

“This facility will put West Memphis on a very short list of prime locations for distribution and logistics,” Ingram said. “It’s the result of local, state and national leaders working together for years. I am gratified to see it come full circle.”


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