Ports & Terminals

America’s Central Port Attracts Tenants With Expansion

New rail construction continues to be the focal point of America’s Central Port District, Madison, Ill., as it looks to attract new manufacturers and distributors to the St. Louis area. In 2016, port officials completed over 23,000 feet of new rail track designed to handle the heaviest of rail loads, bringing the total rail infrastructure at the port to more than 40 miles of track.

While the focus on rail at the port is not new, the pace of new rail construction definitely is. The port was just awarded a $750,000 grant to construct even more track. “We estimate that the grant will provide us an additional 3,000 feet of rail track,” said Bill Stahlman, director of engineering and construction at the port. “This will help us open up additional acreage for new tenants.”

The port is served directly by Norfolk-Southern at its Granite City Harbor and by Terminal Railroad Association at its Madison Harbor. Terminal Railroad is owned by six of the Class I carriers. In addition, the port contracts with Port Harbor Railroad to provide 24-hour switching services, and gives a tenant of the port as many switches as they want in a day.

“The service that Port Harbor Railroad provides is unheard of today. They spoil their customers, but that is also why those same customers continue to grow and rely more on railcars,” said Stahlman.

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Rail traffic for the port continues to grow, and staying ahead of the demand is key to attracting new business. “We were in a position a few years ago where we had more rail demand than we had available track. If we could have figured a way to double-stack rail cars, we would have done it,” said Dennis Wilmsmeyer, executive director of America’s Central Port District. “Two years and 4 miles of new track later, we have gotten ahead of the curve and that’s where we want to be.”

Attraction of manufacturing companies to the port’s 1,200-acre industrial park is the primary goal of the entire staff. Manufacturing jobs typically are higher paying and tend to economically influence an area by needing the services of contractors and suppliers. “The port’s role is to build an incredible infrastructure of rail, road and river access that manufacturers can rely on,” said Wilmsmeyer. “We can lower their overall operating costs, and get them into a new building in most cases.”

The port’s investment in rail comes at a very good time. The Terminal Railroad Association is looking to replace the three spans of the Merchants Rail Bridge just south of the port’s Madison Harbor. The bridge provides a vital link to project St. Louis and all of the Class I carriers’ track. “This will be a huge infrastructure improvement for St. Louis,” said Stahlman. “The Terminal Railroad will almost double the bridge capacity with the upcoming project.”

The Merchants Bridge project is fully supported by the barge industry, St. Louis Regional Freightway and the Departments of Transportation in Illinois and Missouri. Estimates put the construction cost at more than $200 million, with construction planned to start as early as spring 2018.