A grain ship takes on cargo from the grain export elevator at the Port of Greater Baton Rouge. Exports from Baton Rouge hit $10.5 billion in 2018, according to figures released Tuesday by the U.S. Commerce Department. That’s up 19% from $8.8 billion in exports reported in 2017.

Work is expected to begin later this year on a $20 million rail project at the Port of Greater Baton Rouge that will make it easier to transport corn, grain, soybeans and other commodities when the Mississippi River is high.

Gov. John Bel Edwards and Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry Mike Strain announced the long-discussed rail expansion during a press conference Thursday, along with officials from Louis Dreyfus Co., the port and West Baton Rouge parish. The money will pay to build four rail tracks inside the port to reach Louis Dreyfus Co.'s grain elevator. The total combined length of the tracks will be over one mile. Louis Dreyfus Co. has about 80 employees on the site and ships between 5 million and 6 million metric tons of grain a year. 

The Port of Greater Baton Rouge is already overseeing nearly $60 million in rail infrastructure projects expected to increase the volume of commodity traffic in anticipation of future tenants.

Edwards said the expansion will allow for unit trains as long as 110 cars to reach Louis Dreyfus and the Drax wood pellet facility. The expedited shipping will not only benefit port businesses, but help Louisiana farmers as well, he said. 

Strain said running a rail line to Louis Dreyfus was first promised in 2011, when the company became the major grain logistics tenant at the port. Improving rail service will help reduce traffic problems around the port, he said. 

“This will give us another mode of delivery when things are not doing well with the river or traffic,” said Jay Hardman, executive director of the port.

The work on the rail line could be completed by 2020. The port is in the process of getting a permit from the work from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 

Union Pacific Railroad previously constructed a $12 million interchange track, which increased the potential volume of rail cars from 45 to 110 attached to a single train. A third major rail project, which would build a chambering yard along the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway and improve service to the port, is in the works. 

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