Plethora of rail projects in works for Mississippi port, short line

Shown: Port Bienville's existing rail-car storage yard in Hancock County, Mississippi. An intermodal yard will be built to the right of the storage yard. Hancock County Port and Harbor Commission

By Jeff Stagl, Managing Editor 

In August, the Hancock County Port and Harbor Commission (HCPHC) expects to complete a $6.1 million railroad storage yard at Port Bienville in Bay Saint Louis, Mississippi, about 40 miles east of New Orleans. 

Funded by the U.S. Maritime Administration’s Port Infrastructure Development Program, the project will expand the port’s existing rail line via the addition of a side track and storage yard track ladders, increasing rail-car storage capacity by 150 car spaces to 610 total spaces. 

The expanded capacity will enable HCPHC to serve current tenants more effectively at the Port Bienville Industrial Park and accommodate future park development. Seven of the park’s 14 tenants currently use rail service. 

The project is the commission’s largest investment in the port’s short line — the Port Bienville Railroad (PBVR) — in more than two decades, HCPHC officials say. 

And there are more investments and projects to come over the next several years at the port that involve PBVR, which interchanges with CSX in Ansley and moves such commodities as chemicals, pipe, plastics and steel. 

CPKC Facility The port’s short line — which interchanges with CSX in Ansley — moves such commodities as chemicals, pipe, plastics and steel. Hancock County Port and Harbor Commission

The commission recently learned it will receive $7.3 million in Transportation-Housing & Urban Development funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation as part of the fiscal-year 2024 appropriations bill. The federal dollars will help fund the $25.4 million Port Bienville Railroad Intermodal Expansion Project, which is designed to upgrade rail infrastructure and address key challenges PBVR and existing industries face.  

The project will be developed over the next two years in two phases: a $14.6 million first phase that calls for constructing a seven-track classification yard; and a $10.8 million second phase that involves building an intermodal facility. 

The improvements will address two significant challenges PBVR faces: car storage capacity and operational capacity. PBVR provides switching services for park tenants and port customers, and storage services for cars in transit across the Gulf Coast. 

The project will significantly increase operational capacity by about 78%, enabling the railroad to store more than 800 cars by 2027, HCPHC officials say. 

Estimated to be completed in 2027, the classification yard will significantly increase rail storage capacity by accommodating an additional 220 rail cars, said HCPHC Executive Director and CEO Blaine LaFontaine in an email. 

CPKC Facility Seven of the 14 tenants in the Port Bienville Industrial Park currently use rail service. Hancock County Port and Harbor Commission

“Rail traffic has increased annually over the last four years and [the port’s short line] is estimated to move over 9,500 loaded cars this year alone,” he said. “The primary driver for this project is recurring regional demand for rail storage in our market with existing industry and transient opportunities. We decided to pursue this project to support that demand and create capacity for new industries at the port.” 

The new intermodal facility will connect trucking operations to the port’s rail network, helping to enhance efficiency and promote multimodal transportation options in the region and on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, HCPHC officials say. The facility also will help resolve the lack of true intermodal switching capability at the industrial park. 

So far, the commission has obtained $10.7 million in federal and state grant sources and $3.9 million in local funds to proceed toward construction on the project as early as 2026, said LaFontaine. 

“The engineering for the project is underway, with approximately 50% completion, and we are working on the environmental permitting processes for the project site that could take 12 months to complete,” he said. “In addition, we must work through all the appropriate grant agreements and federal review requirements, which is why we are targeting 2026 for construction.”