The Port of Vancouver Board of Commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved a $2.5 million contract to begin work on building a new rail access route into the port. The project, to begin in August, will rid the region of a traffic chokepoint and boost the movement of both freight and passenger train traffic.
Under the contract approved by the port's three elected commissioners, Hamilton Construction Co. of Springfield, Ore., will drill 276 steel piles into the ground to support a water-tight trench that will allow trains entering the port to go underneath the BNSF Railway north-south mainline on the Columbia River Rail Bridge.
Hamilton Construction's work on the piles will last from August to February 2013. It marks the first of three phrases of the port's planned $35 million rail trench project, slated for completion in 2015.
The rail trench project, which will eventually feature a total of 410 piles to support the trench, will construct a new entrance to the port and remodel an existing crossing, with the goal of reducing regional rail traffic congestion by 40 percent. The idea is to reduce delays for both freight trains and Amtrak's Cascades passenger service that stretches from Eugene, Ore., to British Columbia, passing through Vancouver.
Theresa Wagner, the port's communications manager, said the project will enable the port to handle trains more efficiently "and keep costs down for our customers and tenants."
The port reviewed seven bids on the first phase of installing piles for the $35 million rail trench project. The highest — from Slayden Construction Group, Inc. of Stayton, Ore. — was $3.9 million. The lowest — from Hamilton Construction — was $2.5 million.
Port staff recommended the port's three elected commissioners approve Hamilton Construction's bid, finding it was "responsive" and that the company is "a responsible contractor capable of performing the work."
The port is using federal and state funding to pay for about 60 percent of the rail trench project's $35 million price tag. Port revenues will pay for the rest.
The rail trench project is part of the port's larger $275 million West Vancouver Freight Access project, the largest capital project in the port's 100-year history.
More cargo capacity
On the drawing board since 2004, the freight rail project's improvements include enlarging the port's internal rail yard, building a loop track and creating a new port entrance that goes underneath the busy north-south mainline tracks.
The idea is to enable the port to handle more cargo and at a faster rate, with smoother internal operations and the elimination of chokepoints that have slowed connections to the nation's rail network and international commerce.
The West Vancouver freight rail project is targeted for completion in 2017. The port expects to create 1,000 permanent jobs in the next five to 10 years as it increases its rail capacity, helps existing companies expand their operations and builds out Terminal 5. The port estimates the $275 million project will create about 4,000 construction jobs over its life span.