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Ramsey Rail Yard Project Set to Start in May

by Tyler Graf
Daily Journal of Commerce, March 27, 2009

Port of Portland is accepting bids for $14-15 million job in Rivergate Industrial Park

The Ramsey Rail Yard, a multi-track rail switching and staging yard in North Portland's Rivergate Industrial Park, will soon be able to operate at a higher capacity, allowing trains to switch tracks simultaneously.

The Port of Portland is accepting bids for a rail modernization project, which will cost an estimated $14-15 million, at the rail yard. The plan, originally proposed in 2006, will add a section of track for switching; this will result in more tracks available for passing.

"Right now, there is only one track," said Tom Hammond, president of Columbia Grain. "This (project) will allow trains to go in either direction at the same time. Or, if there is a train that cannot be moved, there's another track for additional traffic." Ground-breaking for the project is tentatively scheduled for May, said Josh Thomas, a spokesman for the Port of Portland.

Work includes the addition of 21,000 linear feet of track, turnouts, grading, drainage facilities and new lighting. Stakeholders consider the improvements to be business investments. Those stakeholders include Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Columbia Grain, which owns property in the Rivergate Area, at the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia rivers.

"The number of players has increased since we started this project," Thomas said. "They hope this solves a real problem out there."

For years, Columbia Grain has seen train delays sometimes last as long as days. The cause of the delays, according to the port, is the lack of a landing and staging area for unit trains in the Rivergate District.

The delays have economic impacts, according to Columbia Grain.

Most of the 4 million tons of grain that the company exported in 2008 was transported by rail, said Hammond. To coordinate its shipments, the company unloads approximately 24,000 rail cars of domestic wheat annually from states as far away as Iowa, and then exports these shipments via barge to a global market. Eighty-five percent of Oregon's wheat crop is exported each year.

"Now we need greater rail capacity for inbound and outbound trains," Hammond said. "There's a shortage of capacity in general."

Currently, unit trains for the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway must conduct staging along the busy Fallbridge subdivision, along the north side of the Columbia River. This can cause a rippling bottleneck effect throughout the railway's system in both Washington and Oregon due to the trains' inability to switch tracks for staging purposes.

To pay for the project, the Port of Portland is using federal grants for rail yard improvements, Connect Oregon grants and money from its operating budget.

The Ramsey Rail Yard project will be one of many projects within the Rivergate District this year. The others, such as construction of infrastructure improvements to the Troutdale Industrial Park, dredging at Port of Portland Terminals 2 and 5 and widening of North Lombard Street, are intended to boost freight traffic and bolster industrial development, Thomas said.

Tyler Graf
Ramsey Rail Yard Project Set to Start in May
Daily Journal of Commerce, March 27, 2009

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