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West Memphis Moves Forward with $10.9M Rail Project

3 min read

The city of West Memphis hopes to get the final approval by the end of this month to start work on a $10.9 million project to expand railroad infrastructure to service the city’s port.

The U.S. Department of Transportation awarded the $10.9 million grant to the city in May 2013.

The money will be used to improve the railroad lines at the 2,000-acre International Rail Logistics Park, which is near the city’s port, said Ward Wimbish, director of economic development for the city of West Memphis.

The project also calls for the construction of a 60,000-SF warehouse for goods that could be stored until they are moved by rail, barge or truck, he said in an email to Arkansas Business.

Also included in long-term plans for the area is the development of a container yard and a river dock, Wimbish said. The grant will allow the city to buy the property for the container yard and river dock, but not pay for the construction of it. Wimbish estimated that it would cost about $15 million to $20 million for that portion of the project and said the city would be looking for ways to pay for it.

As a condition of awarding the grant, Louis Dreyfus Commodities LLC of Amsterdam agreed to build a $40 million project featuring a grain-storage facility and a private harbor just south of the port of West Memphis.

Dreyfus Commodities started the first phase of the project, Wimbish said.

“The number of barge movements in West Memphis will grow phenomenally” as a result of the harbor project, he said. “It can handle 50 barges. What that means in the area right now, if a barge wants to … move on the Mississippi River, it has to wait for a tow coming by either coming up from New Orleans or coming down from St. Louis. And once this gets going here, tows will originate in west Memphis.”

He referred questions about that project to Dreyfus Commodities, which didn’t return a call for comment.

At the rail park, the grant money will be used to upgrade the rails to support the heaviest rail cars, Wimbish said.

“We are putting federal dollars to work, helping attract private development at the industrial park that will translate into new businesses and jobs” in the Memphis area, then-U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a May 2013 news release.

In 2012, the rail park handled only 800 railcars for the year, but when the project is completed it will be able to handle 350 railcars a week, the news release said.

“Expanding this intermodal center will not only create good jobs but it will help keep the local import and export economy vibrant,” said then-Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph C. Szabo in the news release.

When the rail project is completed it will put the city “in an extremely competitive situation,” Wimbish said.

Wimbish said he wasn’t sure when the rail project would be competed.

The firm of Caldwell Richards Sorensen of Salt Lake City is handling the engineering work on the rail project.

Construction is expected to start next year, and a contractor hasn’t been chosen yet, Wimbish said.

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