Putting Kia’s Outbound Rail Terminal on a Fast Track

Later this year, when the first finished vehicles roll off the assembly line at Kia Motors Corp.’s newest manufacturing plant in West Point, Georgia, they will flow directly through a series of efficient processing facilities that were master planned by TransDevelopment Group.  Then, the next-generation Kia Sorento SUVs will be loaded onto rail cars and travel over a new network of trackwork developed by TransDevelopment on Kia’s property where they will be privately switched to the CSX Transportation mainline and shipped to dealers across the United States and Canada.

The $50-million Kia vehicle processing center and rail terminal – which included State of Georgia grant funding – is the third automotive assembly plant project that TransDevelopment has developed in the Southeast since 2003.

Previously, TransDevelopment teamed with Kia’s sister company, Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama, to design and build the outbound vehicle distribution center at Hyundai’s automotive assembly plant in Montgomery (82 miles from the Kia plant). In another earlier project, TransDevelopment planned, designed and then built – as the general contractor – Honda Motor Alabama’s assembly plant finished vehicle terminal in Lincoln (93 miles from West Point).

The Kia project continues to build TransDevelopment’s steady record of assembly plant experience.

“With our long history of designing outbound finished vehicle terminals, we were fortunate to play a key role for Honda, Hyundai and now Kia as those manufacturers build new manufacturing capacity in the Southeast,” says John MacGregor, president of TransDevelopment Group.

The chief executive notes that developing finished vehicle facilities requires thoughtful planning and close cooperation with plant engineers and architects.

“Designing and building a finished vehicle terminal is challenging, because it represents less than five percent of the cost of the entire assembly plant,” says MacGregor. “However, the terminals are critical to manufacturers because 100% of plant production passes through them. When we design projects like this, we have to be flexible and respectful of the `big picture’ engineering and process design decisions that are being made for the assembly plant itself.  We have to be extremely adaptable.”

Code name Amethyst
MacGregor and his TransDevelopment team have been involved with the Kia assembly plant since 2004, when CSX Transportation hired the specialty firm to provide conceptual planning of rail improvements at the site. At that time, CSX and the State of Georgia were vying with other states and carriers to win the assembly plant site sweepstakes.

“The site selection process was under strict security – the Kia search effort had the code name ‘Amethyst,’ ” says MacGregor, who heads up his firm’s work for CSX throughout the eastern United States.

The West Point site was chosen in large part because it offered excellent multimodal access. The plant site is nestled between the CSXT mainline and Interstate 85, offering an ideal gateway for outbound finished vehicles traveling by rail and inbound parts and components that usually arrive via truck.

TransDevelopment then prepared a series of conceptual plans for extensive CSX Transportation track work that was developed adjacent to the Kia site. CSXT separately provided this new controlled mainline siding and two arrival and departure tracks to support Kia with the capability for unit train service in either direction from the site.

GLOVIS taps TransDevelopment
After Georgia won the site selection competition with the West Point site, Kia and Hyundai’s in-house logistics company, GLOVIS, hired TransDevelopment to pull together a Basis of Design study to cover all of the rail terminal and adjacent vehicle processing facilities, including vehicle undercoating and washing buildings, paint and body shop and accessorization.

After that, Kia awarded TransDevelopment the contract to build the 27-acre rail terminal and related infrastructure: a lead track from CSXT, 320-ft. railway bridge, 1,600-ft. tail track, two setout tracks and three loading tracks. TransDevelopment served as the project designer and construction manager.

The West Point site was a challenge for the rail designers. From the CSXT mainline west of the plant, the connecting track ascends a 30-ft. grade and crosses Long Cane Creek.

“We studied a series of different approaches and eventually worked to design and develop a major new railway bridge over the Long Cane floodplain,” says MacGregor.

The TransDevelopment team handled needed permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and various State of Georgia requirements.

Terminal, rail bridge and trackwork design began in April 2008, followed by site clearing and earthwork in the summer. Piedmont Paving of Newman, GA and Scarbrough of Fayetteville, GA teamed up to build the arterial grading and paving elements of the project. Scott Bridge of Opelika, AL was the bridge contractor. Track construction began later in 2008 and the project was completed by year-end, with TracWork Inc. of Saraland, AL as the major contractor.

“We built more than five miles of track on the project, which is a pretty respectable number,” says TransDevelopment’s George Battermann, who served as the project’s Development Manager.

Impressively, the project was completed early and under budget.

“It is always a great thing when that happens,” says Pat Foran, GLOVIS’s national manager of port operations. “Coming in under budget and completing the construction work early obviously indicates that TransDevelopment did a great job running the project. The TransDevelopment team is very professional and they came up with a thorough design. We are very happy with the facilities.”

Even though the Kia rail terminal and the related trackwork are complete, TransDevelopment’s master plan for the site will live on when Kia ramps up production at the one billion dollar assembly plant.

“The rail terminal and connecting trackwork were all planned for growth,” says MacGregor. “The loading track is designed to go from 36 to 90 railcars. The support yard has the flexibility to expand from today’s 80-car capacity to 400 railcars.

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