Ports & Terminals

New Rail Line Sought To Grow Ports In Kentucky And Tennessee

The Hickman-Fulton County (Ky.) Riverport Authority is among the agencies seeking approval from the Surface Transportation Board to build 12 miles of new rail line to better serve the port.

This map, included as part of the petition to the Surface Transportation Board, shows the proposed new rail route in red, connecting to a previously approved Northwest Tennessee Regional Port Authority rail line in green, the TennKen Rail Line in blue, the Union City Terminal Railroad line in yellow and the Canadian National rail line in black.
This map, included as part of the petition to the Surface Transportation Board, shows the proposed new rail route in red, connecting to a previously approved Northwest Tennessee Regional Port Authority rail line in green, the TennKen Rail Line in blue, the Union City Terminal Railroad line in yellow and the Canadian National rail line in black.

A petition to the board, filed September 2, is part of an ongoing study to determine the efficacy of laying new rail from Union City, Tenn., north and west through Obion County, Tenn., and Fulton County, Ky., to near Hickman. It would connect existing portions of the TennKen and Union City Terminal Railroad lines.

The port currently has rail connecting it to Dyersburg, Tenn., but it is not in optimal condition, said Greg Curlin, port director. Instead of focusing solely on upgrading existing rail, installing the new line would provide a 46-mile rail loop between Dyersburg and Rives in Tennessee, where there are connections with the Canadian National Railway, with both the Port of Cates Landing on the Mississippi River near Tiptonville, and the Hickman-Fulton County port in Hickman. That would provide better, shorter, more cost-effective access for port and rail customers, Curlin said. Two segments of the route, nearly 3-1/2 miles, would use an abandoned rail right-of-way.

The rail would be owned by Ken Tenn Regional Rail Partners Inc. (KTTRP), a non-profit corporation created by two local economic development agencies, the Fulton County Industrial Development Authority of Kentucky and the Industrial Development Board of Union City, Tenn. Each state appropriated $350,000 in funding last fall to complete the transportation study. Curlin is one of three Kentucky representatives on the board of KTTRP, which filed the petition through its attorney.

“We’ve had rail access, but it’s been so limited because it’s short line, and it needs improvements,” Curlin said.

The petition notes that eastbound traffic from the port must currently travel on Tenn. 5/Ky. 125, a narrow, two-lane highway between Hickman and Union City, and that the port’s current rail service is limited because of the condition of the existing TennKen line’s connection between the port and an interchange with Canadian National in Dyersburg. Because of the poor rail condition, the port has lost grain traffic for trains moving from the port to the grain elevators at Dyersburg, according to the petition. A second connection over the proposed line through Union City will allow the port to take advantage of grain elevators in Union City and outbound dried distillers’ grains from local ethanol production. The proposed line will provide new rail access to the interstate rail network and the Mississippi River transportation network for the Northwest Tennessee Industrial Park as well, according to the petition.

The petition requests approval for the new rail line, subject to environmental review. It is backed by letters of support from legislative leaders and members of the business community.

Curlin hopes the rail provides opportunity for the Hickman-Fulton County Riverport’s growth. Currently it ships close to 1 million tons of freight a year, including grains, fertilizers, wire rod, petroleum coke and aggregates. The port has three tenants. A grain-handling conveyor system loads grain from the storage and handling facility directly to barge. A general cargo conveyor system offloads products to storage or railcar. Warehousing at the port consists of an 18,000-square-foot building used by one tenant and a 10,000-square-foot building connected to a general cargo dock by a conveyor system. The port also has a 1220 PLM Duty Cycle Pedestal Crane with 125-ton capacity located at the general cargo dock.

The transportation study is expected to be complete by fall 2021, after which it is likely the involved agencies would apply for state and federal grant funding to build the rail line.

“I know the states are excited about this,” Curlin said. “I really do believe it could make the difference growing the ports both here and in west Tennessee. There’s no doubt about it.”

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