Port of Vancouver USA begins next phase of rail entrance project

Written by Jenifer Nunez, assistant editor
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Port of Vancouver USA

On July 29, 2013, Port of Vancouver USA in the state of Washington began phase two construction of a rail entrance project. This included the construction of a piling-supported, watertight trench that will support the new grade separated rail entrance into the port.


Considered the crown jewel of the West Vancouver Freight Access (WVFA) project, the new entrance will eliminate a chokepoint on the regional rail system and reduce congestion by as much as 40 percent. The $38-million project, which is being built in four phases, is expected to be complete in 2015.

“The new entrance is a game changer,” said the port’s CEO Todd Coleman. “Cargoes such as wheat, steel pipe, wood pulp and automobiles will move into and out of the port more efficiently and that’s good for our region. Washington is the most trade-dependent state in the nation and improving our ability to transport products for U.S. companies creates jobs and strengthens our economy.”

Also known as “the trench,” the project offers a unique solution to a growing challenge. Because trains entering the port currently must cross several main rail lines, regional train movements often delay port-bound traffic. The new entrance will allow trains carrying more millions of tons of cargo annually to bypass the mainlines by traveling under the BNSF bridge that crosses the Columbia River between Portland, Ore. and Vancouver, Wash.

To allow this, approximately 1,400 feet of new track will be built within a concrete superstructure that sits atop more than 410 pilings. Each piling, made of U.S. steel, is embedded 80 to 90 feet into the river’s northern bank and serves to both support the trench above the riverbank and securely anchor the structure during periods of high water. Designed to be submerged, the watertight trench will withstand hydraulic forces from the river, ensuring safe and efficient movement of freight into and out of the port.

Adding to the project’s complexity is the need for trains to turn to the north and ascend into the port’s operating area immediately after they travel under the existing rail bridge. Design plans have the new rail track turning and climbing approximately 12 feet over a distance of 950 feet and then connecting to the port’s ever-expanding rail corridor, also a part of the WVFA project.

Designing the rail entrance was a joint effort between the port and its primary engineering consultant on the WVFA project, HDR Engineering, Inc., of Portland, Ore.

Funding for the $38-million rail entrance includes a $2.94-million grant from the Washington State Freight Mobility Strategic Investment Board and a $15-million grant from the Federal Rail Administration‘s High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program. Central to the port’s success in competing for grant funding is the significant reduction in congestion that will result when the project is complete, benefiting both the port and the regional rail system.