A series of major freight rail projects will greatly improve the speed and efficiency of moving containers by rail to and from the region’s port facilities, according to presentations at the NJTPA’s February 22 Freight Initiatives Committee meeting. Those facilities, including the port complex in Newark and Elizabeth and Global Container Terminals in Bayonne, are handling record container volumes even as other U.S. ports suffer delays and congestion.
Ryan Hill, Chief Engineer of Design and Construction at Conrail, said the company is completing the final signal work on the Waverly Loop project, which is allowing trains moving north to bypass the Oak Island Rail Yard. Trains previously had to enter the yard before proceeding. He said constructing the loop project was challenging, including the need to build two new bridges in an area that is largely swamp.
Conrail, he said, is also awaiting bids to commence replacement of the Point-No-Point Bridge which is used by freight trains traveling between Newark and Kearney over the Passaic River. The new moveable swing bridge will replace the deteriorating existing structure, which dates back to 1901.
Preparation of the project over the last five years required “a lot of negotiations, coordination and plan review” among CSX Railroad, Amtrak, NJ TRANSIT and PATH, among others, along with extensive real estate purchases, Hill said. It is expected to take three years to complete.
The bridge replacement and Wavery Loop projects, he said, represent the largest rail improvements undertaken by Conrail since 1999 when it took over operation of the shared rail assets of CSX and Norfolk Southern in the port area, after the larger Conrail system was disbanded. The projects will take advantage of additional track capacity added in the past year to the main freight line in Kearney.
Another major freight rail project taking shape would create a southerly connection from the Express Rail facility in Port Elizabeth to the national rail system. Currently at the preliminary stages, the project is a partnership between Conrail and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, said Cory Wyatt, Manager of Intermodal Rail Development at the Port Authority. Currently CSX and Norfolk Southern trains must head north into Newark to connect with southbound tracks, creating “a huge need” for a direct southerly connection, said Wyatt.
The project will help improve a key part of the ExpressRail system which operates at six port facilities in New York and New Jersey, allowing containers to be loaded directly on rail cars at the ports rather than being trucked to rail yards first. He said the system is only at half capacity, with room to accommodate continuing growth of port traffic. Also at the meeting, Chris Lamm, Principal at Cambridge Systematics, presented on NJTPA’s Freight Rail Grade Crossing Assessment Update; and Scott Parker, Senior Project Manager at Jacobs Engineering presented on NJTPA’s Freight Concept Development Program studies. A recording of the meeting and presentation slides are here.
PHOTO BY: Famartin, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons