Tom Richardson, left, and Les Miller, both of the Garrison's Directorate of Public Works, look over plans for loading ramps and a loading dock at the upgraded train rail installed near Gate 9.

REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- A major upgrade related to the Redstone Gateway business development project near Gate 9 is bringing the sound of train whistles back to Redstone Arsenal.

The recently completed $900,000 upgrade to the Arsenal's train track spur makes rail transportation to the installation once again a viable transportation option for Arsenal organizations.

"The tracks have been upgraded to meet present day standards," said Tom Richardson, the Garrison's civil and traffic engineer, Directorate of Public Works.

"The former tracks were antiquated. Every time a train came to the Arsenal the track had to be inspected and repaired to some degree. Rails today have significant higher load carrying capacity, and the former track just didn't handle well that kind of capacity. The former track had limitations because of its age."

The track, located in the northwestern section of the Arsenal in the Redstone Gateway development just outside Gate 9, connects with the Norfolk Southern main rail line that runs along I-565 between Huntsville and Decatur. Approval to actually use the upgraded rail is expected from Norfolk Southern soon with responsibility for managing the Army's rail turned over to the Directorate of Logistics.

"It's not quite open for business. But by the calendar year end we should be ready to receive traffic," Richardson said. "We're finishing up with the connection of our spur with the Norfolk Southern main line. This is a priority for Norfolk Southern and they understand that we need to get it open."

In addition, future plans call for the addition of loading ramps and a loading dock at the end of the rail. The loading ramps should be in place by February.

Funding for the project has been provided by the Redstone Gateway developer, Corporate Office Properties Trust, as part of the in-kind services being provided in return for a land use lease agreement on the 468-acre site near Gate 9. The upgrade was contracted and managed on behalf of the Arsenal by the City of Huntsville.

"I look forward to seeing the Redstone rail upgrade reopen soon in support of Arsenal customers," Garrison commander Col. John Hamilton said. "We appreciate all the effort that has been put in by the Redstone Gateway and Team Redstone to take our outdated train rail and replace it with one that is state of the art. The new rail and the eventual addition of a loading dock give us greater capabilities in supporting the success of current operations and future operations on Redstone."

Prior to the Redstone Gateway development, the half-mile of train rail was inside the Arsenal's secure area. Now, it is an unsecured area.

"The original track is original to Redstone Arsenal and was built in the 1940s," said Les Miller, the Garrison's branch chief of operations, Directorate of Public Works. "It was the main source of bringing materials to Redstone Arsenal. It's always been an Arsenal asset.

"In the beginning, it had frequent use. But then with transportation going to truck/van carriers we didn't need the track as much unless there was a load that couldn't fit the road requirements or couldn't be permitted to travel the highway because of weight."

In recent years, the track was used only three to five times a year.

"Because of the heavier loads, if customers wanted to use it they would also have to bear the cost of inspecting and repairing the track," Miller said.

Construction on the rail upgrade began this past summer and was completed in October. In the rail upgrade, the track was been relocated further north to accommodate the Redstone Gateway development.

"Whatever a train can carry, it can now come in on the new rail," Miller said. "Once we get the loading ramps in, it will make it easier to drive materials off rail cars and, when we get the dock in place, we will also have a permanent facility for loading and unloading rail cars. Right now, it's a track and a loading pad. We have some preliminary plans for constructing loading ramps and the loading dock."

Until the loading ramps and dock are in place, customers using the rail must bring in cranes or other equipment to assist with loading and unloading.

The new rail allows the Garrison to offer an added transportation benefit for Arsenal customers, and makes the Arsenal more attractive for further government and industrial growth.

"NASA is probably going to be one of our major customers," Miller said. "And there are other customers on post who will use it."

The loading pad parameters were designed to accommodate use for shipments in support of NASA's heavy lift rocket program.

The 10 motors used by the Space Launch System -- the next generation heavy lift rocket -- will be shipped to Marshall Space Flight Center via rail for testing in the 2014-17 timeframe, said Bob Devlin, deputy director for operations at Marshall.

"We will be bringing components up here to test," he said. "We can't bring them by air because they are too heavy. We can't bring them by ground because they are too slow and too large, and would tie up traffic. We can't bring them by barge because they will be coming through Utah. So we will be moving them by special rail to Redstone."

Marshall has two kneel down transporters, described as giant crawlers, that the motor components will be moved to from train cars at the new Arsenal train rail. The transporters, which move at a speed of 2 to 5 mph, will take the motor components to Marshall test areas at Redstone for "shake, rattle and roll tests," Devlin said.

"That has been the main driver for getting the track modified. That and that our installation took its biggest hit during Base Realignment and Closure Commission discussions because we didn't have a modern track," said Devlin, who was the Garrison commander during the Arsenal's work in compiling reports considered by 2005 BRAC officials.

"Not having the new rail could have made a big difference in our role with the motor testing."

The Marshall official said the International Intermodal Center at the Huntsville International Airport was considered as an alternative to an Arsenal track. But in the end, it just wasn't feasible.

"It was a much more costly discussion. These components are fairly heavy and the diameters are fairly large," he said. "Would we be able to close I-565 long enough to get them to the Arsenal? Would we have had to resolve any damage done to the interstate and other roads during transport? There are a ton of other issues that could have very well derailed the whole thing if we hadn't had the Arsenal rail as an option."

Page last updated Fri December 9th, 2011 at 14:53