The Washington Times-Herald

September 14, 2013

Rail bridge rebuild key for area economy

By Mike Grant
Times Herald

---- — NEWBERRY — An aging bridge along the Indiana Railroad line will be rebuilt. The 115-year-old bridge over the West Fork of the White River in Greene County is being called an important upgrade to the freight transportation system that services businesses in and around Daviess County.

“The current bridge is technologically obsolete,” said Indiana Rail Road President Tom Hoback. “We have reduced the amount of weight which can be safely moved over the bridge to extend its life, but this is only a stopgap measure.”

The project has received a huge financial boost with an $8.2 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The project is one of only 52 awarded in the nation. More than $9-billion in applications were made for $474 million in funding.

Indiana Rail Road is putting together the funding to cover the rest of the cost of the $13.75 million project.”Indiana Rail Road will put up $2 million on the project, Southern Indiana Railroad will put in $1.5 million,” said Eric Powell with Indiana Rail Road. “Duke Energy and IPL will also be putting in some upfront money that they will recover from rebates on freight moved along the line.”

The rail line improvements will also be a positive for Crane. The line is part of the strategic rail corridor. Officials say 1,500 to 2,000 containers roll into the Navy base every year. “This bridge is a key link in the movement of southwest Indiana coal, grain, and manufactured goods, as well as military hardware for Naval Support Activity Crane,” said Eighth Dist. Congressman Larry Bucshon. “The new bridge will remove height and weight limitations, creating cost and service efficiency opportunities for companies from Indianapolis to Evansville.

The pin-connected Pratt style bridge was built to handle loads for lighter trains of the 19th century. “We had really feared a catastrophic failure of the bridge,” said Powell. “That would have cut off Crane and our other customers.”

Indiana Rail Road lowered the weight moving across it to 263,000 pounds and lowered the speed limit on it to 10 miles per hour. “The standard for the rail business now is 286,000 pounds,” said Powell. “The lower weights are costly to both consumers and our customers.”

The grant will allow Indiana Rail Road to get the bridge rebuilt to meet modern standards. “The total cost exceeded their annual maintenance budget,” said Will Wingfield with the Indiana Department of Transportation. “We were more than happy to support this effort.”

The bridge project is also expected to have an impact on current Daviess County business operations and others that may arrive in the future. Grain Processing is one of the companies that moved more than 23,000 carloads over the bridge last year. “This creates a better climate for moving freight,” said Daviess County Economic Development Director Ron Arnold. “This will build competition for Indiana Rail Road, Southern Indiana Railroad and CSX to move freight. That should help businesses be more competitive and develop more jobs.”

The new bridge is also expected to create more opportunities at Indiana Rail Road’s transload facility that opened earlier this year at Odon just off of I-69. “It allows things to continue moving forward,” said Arnold. “I anticipate that in the next 12 months Indiana Rail Road will execute their plan to expand onto another 7 acres at that site.”

Because the TIGER grant is only for shovel ready projects, Indiana Rail Road is ready to get to work on the bridge quickly. “All of the permitting is done,” said Powell. “We’ll begin construction next month, working pier to pier and it should be finished by late next year.”

The company is also in discussions with the State Historic Society as part of an effort to preserve the old bridge as construction crews dismantle it.

“Indiana Congressman Larry Bucshon, Governor Mike Pence, and INDOT officials worked tirelessly on behalf of Indiana Rail Road and a number of southern Indiana businesses to secure the TIGER money for the replacement of this key bridge and I thank them for their extraordinary efforts,” said Hoback. “Kudos, to our public officials for stepping to the plate and making possible a public-private partnership that will benefit Hoosiers in southwest Indiana for decades to come.”