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Louisiana gives $3 million to 2 short-line railroad projects

Grants awarded to New Orleans Public Belt Railroad, Louisiana Southern Railroad

A locomotive with the New Orleans Public Belt Railroad. (Photo: Port NOLA)

The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development is awarding grants totalling $3 million to two projects aimed at increasing network fluidity, supporting the broader supply chain and modernizing and increasing the climate resiliency of existing infrastructure.

The state offered the grants via its Class II and Class III rail infrastructure improvement program.

“Our freight and passenger rail infrastructure needs improving if we want to continue successfully moving goods throughout the state,” said DOTD Secretary Shawn Wilson in a Wednesday news release. “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.”

One $1.5 million grant went to the New Orleans Public Belt Railroad (NOPB), which will construct a transloading park in the New Orleans East area in order to facilitate movements between truck and rail.

Construction on the NOPB Transloading Industrial Park will begin in summer 2023, and engineering and design work is already underway, according to the news release.

NOPB hopes the new transloading park will not only serve existing NOPB customers but new ones as well, while also providing opportunities for freight operators to enter or expand into the New Orleans market.

The project is the first joint infrastructure venture between NOPB and the Port of New Orleans. 

“[The funding] 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.”

NOPB is a Class III railroad that serves Port NOLA and interchanges with six Class I railroads. It operates 26 miles of mainline track and 75 additional miles of track along with three classification yards and four storage yards.

Another $1.5 million grant went to Louisiana Southern Railroad, a subsidiary of short-line operator Watco. That grant will go toward track, rail and bridge upgrades between Hodge and Gibsland in north Louisiana. Project work is already underway.

“[The state’s] support of our railroad is a significant first step in realizing a modern short-line system … that can handle more capacity while maintaining the highest standards of safety,” said Louisiana Southern Roadmaster Judson Rogers.

Since 2005, Watco has operated the Louisiana Southern, which operates more than 195 miles of track in rural Louisiana, serving shippers of paper products, aggregates, oils and consumer products. The railroad has three interchanges with Kansas City Southern at Gibsland, Pineville and Sibley, moving more than 15,000 carloads annually. 

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Joanna Marsh

Joanna is a Washington, DC-based writer covering the freight railroad industry. She has worked for Argus Media as a contributing reporter for Argus Rail Business and as a market reporter for Argus Coal Daily.