A rail upgrade will bring more cargo-bearing trains to the yard on the Tacoma Tideflats by next summer.
The $18.4 million upgrade includes adding “leads” — the equivalent of lanes of traffic — into and out of the west end of the intermodal rail yard where workers sort the rail cars from each train for transport elsewhere.
Much of that rail traffic winds along tracks under state Route 509 and across the rail bridge over the Puyallup River, an area rail aficionados call “Bullfrog Junction.” Only one train at a time can cross the Puyallup rail bridge.
“If a train was arriving (into the intermodal yard) all other trains would have to wait and there could be no other movement into or out of the yard,” said Carol Rhodes, senior project manager at the Port of Tacoma.
With the upgrades — and the addition of a few thousand feet of track — the function of that area will improve by 34 percent, Rhodes said.
“We will have a larger capacity to deliver long trains,” Rhodes said of the improvements.
Port commissioners approved the $18.4 million expense at its March 17 meeting. Of that amount, Tacoma Public Utilities’ rail division is paying $2 million and a state Department of Commerce grant will pay for nearly $5 million of the cost. The project is expected to employ 108 construction workers, according to information from the Port of Tacoma.
Tacoma Public Utilities spokeswoman Chris Gleason said the project is expected to increase operational flexibility for Tacoma Rail.
“This type of partnered investment is viewed as an important step toward preserving and enhancing our regional competitiveness,” she said in an emailed statement.