WASHINGTON — A new 13,500-foot bypass around CSX Transportation’s Gentilly Yard in New Orleans and four siding extensions — three in Mississippi and one in Alabama — are among the 12 projects that would be funded under a grant sought by Amtrak to upgrade the route between New Orleans and Mobile, Ala., for Gulf Coast passenger service.
A non-profit news organization, Mississippi Today, previously reported on financial aspects and some other details of the project’s Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements grant application, which it obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request [see “Grant seeks almost $179 million …,” Trains News Wire, Dec. 16, 2022]. Given a large number of such requests, Amtrak has now released the 54-page primary document on the FOIA portion of its website, allowing a look at the details of the infrastructure work that would be included. (A number of attachments, including the schedule and project budget, are not included.)
The improvements are part of the agreement reached in November by Amtrak, CSX, Norfolk Southern, and the Alabama State Port Authority to allow Amtrak to launch the Gulf Coast operation [see “Amtrak, freight railroads say they have a deal …,” Trains News Wire, Nov. 22, 2022]. The parties have kept details confidential, but told the Surface Transportation Board some conditions for its completion “are not entirely within the parties’ control” — which may indicate the deal is contingent on receiving the grant funding.
New tracks, extended sidings
The addition of the Gentilly Bypass west of Main Track 1, according to the application, would “avoid potential delays from CSXT switching operations that require use of Main Track 1.” This would actually be the second attempt to expedite passenger movements through the yard; Amtrak and the state of Louisiana paid to add signaling to a main track on the yard’s north side when Sunset Limited operations were extended from New Orleans to Florida in 1993 [see “STB Gulf Coast hearing, Day 2 …,” News Wire, April 5, 2022].
Siding extensions on CSX’s NO&M Subdivision, to be funding by the grant and accompanying $44 million in matching funds, include:
— An approximately 4,700-foot extension to the 9,000-foot Claiborne siding in Pearlington, Miss., with the addition planned from the current north end of the siding at milepost 766.3 to milepost 765.3.
— An extension of up to 6,800 feet of the 7,930-foot Beauvoir siding in Biloxi, Miss., extending south from the current end of siding at milepost 731.9 to milepost 733.1.
— An extension of up to 4,500 feet at the north end of the 8,910-foot Orange Grove siding in Gulfport, Miss., with the extension from milepost 701.1 to milepost 699.3.
— Extension of the 10,395-foot Brookley siding in Mobile, Ala., to a planned Mobile station track, an addition totaling 14,100 feet and creating a section of second main line. Double crossovers would be included at the north end of the extension. The planned 3,000-foot station track, where Amtrak trains would board and disembark passengers, as well as lay over, is not part of the grant application.
— Some 1,400 feet of new lead and 4,100 of refurbished track at the Virginia Street Lead in Mobile, connecting CSX’s Choctaw Yard and Terminal Railway Alabama State Docks facilities at Garrow’s Bend. This is intended to improve access to the intermodal container transfer facility and McDuffie Island Coal Terminal, reducing the possibility for conflicts with Amtrak trains.
Other work to be included
Other track and station improvements are also part of the application. They include:
— New power turnouts to replace hand-throw switches at the Theodore Industrial Park wye in Theodore, Ala., mileposts 679.5 and 679.2.
— Three sets of new crossovers on Norfolk Southern’s Back Belt in New Orleans: near milepost 5.2 north of Bayou St. John, which will allow Amtrak trains to use Track 1 more often to and from New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal; at Elysian Fields, milepost 7.0, allowing movements from either NS to main line to either line of the CSX NO&M Subdivision; and at Terminal Junction, milepost 7.6, allowing movements from Norfolk Southern Mains 1 and 2 to Oliver Yard or NS’ NO&NE main line.
— Improvements at five stations: At Biloxi, a small station building, new platform, and roadway improvements; at Pascagoula, Miss., a shelter and platform canopy, with possible acquisition of the former station, currently leased for non-transportation use; at Bay St. Louis and Gulfport, Miss., new platform canopies; and at Mobile, a new station platform.
— Removal of five grade crossings west of Bay St. Louis to allow use of an existing second track as a passing siding, and upgrades to four crossings and possible removal of another in a 20-mile stretch between Gulfport and Biloxi.
The application anticipates the projects would be complete within three years “upon obligation of the grant.”