Port seeks input on proposed rail spur

State and federal officials, along with rail company representatives, have been asked to meet Tuesday with commissioners of the Port of Greater Baton Rouge to discuss rail needs at the facility in Port Allen.

Jay Hardman, the port’s executive director, said Friday those asked to attend include state Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain, port tenants, representatives of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s office and the U.S. Coast Guard, Union Pacific Railroad and the port’s switching contractor, Rail Link Inc.

Union Pacific owns existing rail lines that run to the port.

Several commissioners and Hardman discussed the issue Thursday during meetings of the port’s Executive and Engineering/Finance committees.

Some port tenants have expressed an interest in a rail spur on port property, Hardman said, but he and commissioners said more information is needed on the costs and responsibilities for such a project.

In addition, Hardman and commissioners noted that any rail plan must avoid blocking access to 400 acres of the port’s land that remains to be developed.

Over the past 18 months, Hardman said, two port tenants have asked about the possibility of building a train spur that would cut through about 2 miles of port property, northeast of the undeveloped 400 acres.

Those tenants are Drax Biomass and Louis Dreyfuss Commodities, Hardman said.

A spokesman for Houston-based Genesis Energy L.P., the port’s newest tenant, said this week that company officials do not see a need for port rail services at this time.

Genesis is pouring $150 million into a tank farm for crude oil and other petroleum products, pipelines and an export/import terminal at the port.

None of that money is earmarked for any rail projects, the Genesis spokesman said. One of the firm’s planned pipelines will connect with ExxonMobil’s nearby Anchorage Tank Farm.

In addition to concerns about isolating the port’s undeveloped acreage from the port docks, Hardman said, the Coast Guard must be kept informed of ongoing discussions with other tenants because any trains utilizing a new spur would cross the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway several times to unload or load.

The Coast Guard holds authority over any activity that could block the waterway’s connection to the Mississippi River, Hardman added.

Financial concerns also are evident, Hardman said, noting that such a project would cost millions of dollars.

No existing leases require construction of the rail spur, Hardman said, and no one is offering to pay the bill.

“When you start passing the hat … man, everybody’s broke,” Hardman said.