Port of Benton to bolster rail infrastructure, establish an intermodal facility

The port plans to replace three grade crossings and replace ties on a track segment along its 16-mile Southern Connection short line in Richland, Washington. Port of Benton

By Jeff Stagl, Managing Editor 

A Washington state port is gearing up to complete a host of rail improvements by mid-fall. 

Located in Richland in far southern Washington near the Oregon state line, the Port of Benton plans to replace three grade crossings and replace ties on a track segment. 

The work will be performed along the port’s Southern Connection short line, which runs 16 miles between Center Parkway in Kennewick and Horn Rapids Road in north Richland. The line is operated by Columbia Rail Group, which interchanges the port’s traffic with BNSF Railway Co. and Union Pacific Railroad.  

The crossing and tie replacement projects will help increase train speeds, enhance safety and reduce vehicle traffic interruptions, said Port of Benton Public Information Officer Summers Miya in an email. 

“The projects will also support the local agriculture and other industries in getting their goods to market,” she said. 

By late summer, the port expects to complete upgrades at the State Route 240, Airport Way and Saint Street crossings.  

Work at the State Route 240 crossing calls for replacing the crossing and the flashing lights and gates. The port will continue performing asphalt and concrete maintenance at the crossing to sustain train safety and vehicle traffic. 

Funding for the project includes $865,000 from the National Highway Freight Program and $435,000 from the port in grant matching dollars, said Miya. 

At the Airport Way crossing, new concrete panels will be installed, lights will be upgraded to LED and gate mechanisms will be replaced. 

Airport Way Crossing Shown: The grade crossing at Airport Way, which is slated for replacement by late summer. The work involves new concrete panels, LED lights and gate mechanisms. Port of Benton

Funding for that project will be covered by a $1 million Freight Rail Assistance Program (FRAP) grant from the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) and $250,000 from the port in grant matching dollars. 

The port also plans to install new concrete panels and lighted crossbucks at the Saint Street crossing. Funding for the project will be covered by a $1 million FRAP grant from WSDOT and $250,000 from the port in grant matching dollars, said Miya. 

Meanwhile, the tie replacement work will be performed between Duportail Street and the Horn Rapids Industrial Park. To be completed in late 2024, the project calls for replacing 3,000 ties and adding ballast where needed. 

The work will be funded by a $1.2 million grant from the Washington State Legislature via the Washington State Department of Commerce. 

“The tie replacement particularly will help improve the track safety and will also allow track speeds to increase from 5 to 10 mph,” said Miya. “Future tie replacement projects will allow speeds to increase to 25 mph.” 

The port — which marked its 65th anniversary last year — also is taking a longer-term approach to rail infrastructure improvements by advancing plans for an intermodal facility/inland port. 

Installing New Ties About 3,000 ties will be replaced along the Southern Connection between Duportail Street and the Horn Rapids Industrial Park. Port of Benton

The facility would be built in north Richland to access rail-served industrial areas near the port and city of Richland. It would provide access to rail facilities, interstates, state routes and a barge complex, port officials say. 

“Creating an inland port in Richland would give eastern Washington companies experiencing growth and demand for their domestic and global products another option to get their goods to market,” they said. “It would also further increase investment and job creation within the intermodal sector, support the growth of existing industries, and progress regional clean energy and advanced manufacturing goals.” 

The port and city of Richland have reached a land exchange agreement to provide contiguous property for the proposed facility. 

“We are hopeful the city will officially approve the land transfer at their next meeting,” said Miya, adding that construction on the facility might start in 2025 at the earliest. 

Port officials will hold a public informational meeting July 8 in Richland to review the proposed intermodal facility/inland port and rail improvements.