Tacoma Rail receives grant for automated switching

Some of Tacoma Rail’s tracks will soon be switched at the push of a button, thanks in part to a $500,000 grant from the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT).

The official word of the funding arrived in a letter to Tacoma Rail last week, which stated that the Washington State Legislature allocated the money for automated track switching from the Emergent Freight Rail Assistance Program. Before the approval, WSDOT conducted a cost/benefit analysis and determined that the project would “provide a public benefit that exceeds the grant amount.”

Tacoma Rail applied for the grant to improve safety at its rail yard, increase the efficiency of trains traveling through the Port and step up its already stellar customer service.

“Right now, our employees have to get in and out of the engines to switch the tracks by hand,” said Tacoma Rail Superintendent Paula Henry. “Automated switching will create a much safer situation.”

After Tacoma Rail completes the project, an employee in a control booth will push a button to switch the tracks as trains come through, which means that many trains will not need to stop as they pass through a section of the port.

Port of Tacoma management concurred with the state’s assessment that automated switching would provide a benefit and has agreed to match a portion of the money. The project will help achieve the anticipated growth in the Port.

“This will significantly increase the efficiency of our operations at the West end of the Port of Tacoma rail yard,” Henry said. “It will make a big difference to our customers and the Port’s customers.”

Tacoma Rail will facilitate a joint task force to identify the project scope, budget and timeline. At this time, Tacoma Rail anticipates completing the upgrades by the end of 2008 at a total project cost of $850,000.