Today, the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) announced the first projects selected to receive a total of $3 million in grant funding under the Class II and III Rail Infrastructure Improvement Program.
The New Orleans Public Belt Railroad (NOPB) received $1.5 million to construct the NOPB Transloading Industrial Park in New Orleans East. WATCO’s Louisiana Southern Railroad (LAS) also received $1.5 million for track, rail, and bridge upgrades between Hodge and Gibsland in North Louisiana. These improvements will increase fluidity and modernize the respective rail networks, support commerce and the supply chain, while also increasing resiliency needed to combat climate change issues.
“The Department of Transportation is committed to improving all the infrastructure needs in the state, and this includes our rail lines,” said DOTD Secretary Shawn D. Wilson, Ph.D. “Our freight and passenger rail infrastructure needs improving if we want to continue successfully moving goods throughout the state. These grants will do just that: improve upgrades on the tracks of our rail infrastructure, support transloading and increase rail cars moving throughout our state and ports.”
The NOPB Transloading Industrial Park will be located on Terminal Road in New Orleans East and will serve as a site for shippers to move products between truck and rail. It is expected to serve existing and new NOPB customers and to facilitate business growth in this area by adding cost-effective shipping options with access to new markets.
This will be the first joint infrastructure venture between Port NOLA and NOPB as two strategically aligned organizations. NOPB is a Class III railroad on the nation’s fourth-largest rail gateway that connects with six Class I railroads and serves Port NOLA and local industry. NOPB operates 26 miles of mainline track and 75 additional miles of track along with three classification yards and four storage yards.
The NOPB Transloading Industrial Park will allow new and current operators to enter or expand in the New Orleans market. “I want to thank LA DOTD for this funding. It will help the NOPB continue to focus on growing and expanding its network, while providing our customers with excellent service and maintaining an efficient and fluid railroad,” said NOPB General Manager Tomeka Watson Bryant. “This important transportation infrastructure project will bring jobs to the region and strengthen the NOPB and Port NOLA gateway.”
Construction on the NOPB Transloading Industrial Park is expected to begin in the summer of 2023, and engineering and design work is already underway.
The Louisiana Southern (LAS), a WATCO-operated property since 2005, operates on more than 195.4 miles of track across rural Louisiana, serving a diverse customer base and moving more than 15,000 carloads annually. The LAS connects with the KCS at three interchanges across the system, at Gibsland, Pineville, and Sibley, Louisiana. The railroad is powered by 11 locomotives and 39 local team members. The diverse rural customer base served by the LAS includes commodities such as paper products, aggregates, oils, and consumer products.
Challenged by legacy infrastructure and the impacts of climate, WATCO’S Louisiana Southern Railroad (LAS) was proud to submit a pilot project to the inaugural year of the Short Line Rail Infrastructure Investment Program from DOTD. “LADOTD’s support of our railroad is a significant first step in realizing a modern short line system across the state, that can handle more capacity while maintaining the highest standards of safety,” noted Judson Rogers, the Roadmaster on the LAS. Project work is currently underway.
The Louisiana Legislature passed the Class II and III Rail Infrastructure Improvement Program, Act 222 introduced by former Rep. Thomas Carmody (RS 48:388.1) in 2019 to provide assistance to the state’s smaller railroads for rail improvements with public benefits needed to maintain efficient and safe rail service on the rail network. Eligible projects include track and signal improvements, rail line relocation, multimodal connectors and support facilities, and rail grade crossings not eligible under other programs. Projects selected require a minimum of 50 percent matching funds from sources other than the Transportation Trust Fund.
“With the assistance of the Shortline Railroad Priority Program grant, this department can continue to construct infrastructure projects that enhance safety, provide seamless links across corridors, congestion mitigation relief, and a sense of hope in Louisianans as we work to move our state forward,” said Renee Lapeyrolerie, DOTD Commissioner of Multimodal Commerce. “Our state freight rail receives 47% transit movement a year, and funding from this grant will help in providing a reliable rail network.”