Railhead project at Fort Drum goes forward, another is still in the works
By ABRAHAM KENMORE | Watertown Daily Times, N.Y. | Published: June 12, 2018
WATERTOWN, N.Y. (Tribune News Service) — In 2008, the railhead at Fort Drum was flagged in an Army study as not having enough capacity.
Now, 10 years later, officials are working with local politicians to secure funding for both maintenance and eventual expansion.
U.S. Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Willsboro, has been particularly concerned with the railhead and sent the Army a letter requesting information on the project. In a reply forwarded by Ms. Stefanik’s office, the Department of Army said that two projects were underway currently at the railhead.
The first is a $6.4 million maintenance project to replace railroad ballast and realign track. This project is already funded through the Army Installation Management Command, according to Julie Halpin, director of Fort Drum Public Affairs.
“This is necessary because the old ballast isn’t holding the rails straight and we’ve been spending excessive time and effort making sure they stay in gauge,” Mrs. Halpin wrote in an email.
The maintenance project is being prepared for bids, and there is no timeline for completion.
The second project, called the Railhead Industrial Complex, is a more ambitious expansion that has been submitted for consideration in the Army’s 20-24 Military Construction program but has not yet been funded.
“The expansion project ... would double the number of loading sidings, ramps, and capacity for railcars,” wrote Mrs. Halpin. “The Railhead Industrial Complex would double the capacity of Fort Drum’s railhead and bring the post in line with the 10th Mountain Division’s current requirements.”
The project would also pave areas for vehicle staging and container handling that are currently covered in gravel.
“Currently, units at Fort Drum cannot deploy fast enough to reach the Operation plan requirements, and this project will help improve that,” wrote Stefanik spokesman Tom Flanagin.
Last month, the base held a readiness exercise that tested the railhead’s capacity.
Soldiers at Fort Drum tested how long it took to pack up everything that the Second Brigade needs when it is deployed at a moment’s notice, starting at the railhead, and move it to Joint Readiness Center at Fort Polk.
The shipment of more than 1,100 Humvees, fueling tanks, bulldozers and soldiers’ duty equipment was taken by train to port in Philadelphia, then loaded up on two ships that made their way down the Eastern Seaboard and around to Port Arthur, Texas. From there, it was taken to Fort Polk in a convoy.
“The deployment readiness exercise confirmed what we already knew about the limitations of our current railhead,” Mrs. Halpin wrote.
Ms. Stefanik has worked on both railhead projects for the past year, according to Mr. Flanagin, and is still working to secure funding for the Railhead Industrial Complex expansion.
State Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, also worked to include $12 million in the state budget this year for the railhead expansion, but it was not passed by the assembly or the governor.
“She will continue to fight for that,” said Ritchie spokesman Brian Dwyer.