News Column

Navy's Field Wanted for Rail Expansion on Presidents Island

May 10, 2013

The U.S. Navy's huge research center on Presidents Island secretly tests the model hulls and propellers of all kinds of ships and subs, both military and commercial.

But what has Port of Memphis officials intrigued isn't the 500,000-square-foot building housing the Large Cavitation Channel. It's the 35 acres of grass out front of it.

Port officials are considering asking the Navy's permission to use its open field to save $2 million.

Minneapolis-based Cargill Inc., which runs a 400-employee corn processing mill near the Navy center, and the Port of Memphis are planning a joint, $20 million project to expand Presidents Island's rail facilities. Dead-end rail lines will be remade into a loop for longer trains.

Cargill, which makes high-fructose corn syrup, could save money by accommodating longer trains -- "unit trains" of at least 100 cars -- at its mill.

The project would cost about $2 million less if rail could cross the Navy's 35-acre field, said Randy Richardson, the Port of Memphis executive director. Access would allow the port to avoid relocating utilities such as an electrical substation, sewer line and sewer lift station, he said.

The Port Commission will discuss the issue at its next meeting, 2:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Better Business Bureau, 3693 Tyndale Drive.

"We would try to go across part of the field with the rail line," Richardson said. "It has nothing to do with the building. Just strictly us trying to talk with them to come up with a mechanism to be able to use that field."

The Navy facility dates to 1991. Researchers look for ways ships, submarines and torpedoes can move through the water without making as many bubbles, called "cavitation."

Bubbles make noise that can be detected by listening devices used by other naval forces, and also cause wear and tear on hulls. The testing facility is used for commercial ship design, too.

The center has a water tunnel large enough for a 40-foot model. The model stays still as the water moves by it at speeds up to about 40 miles per hour.

The Cargill mill employs about 400, including contractors. It processes up to 78 million bushes of corn a year, making syrups, oil, starches and feedstocks.

Cargill is also making a $72 million investment in its plant.



Source: (c)2013 The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tenn.). Distributed by MCT Information Services.


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