Columbus hires firm to study rail yard relocation

Columbus has hired environmental services firm ENSR to study the possible relocation of the city's rail yard, the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce announced today.

The study should help city leaders assess the operational and economic impacts of the relocation.

The idea of moving the rail yard out of downtown is nothing new. As far back as the early 1900s, city leaders realized its location could deter growth.

The issue is particularly pertinent now considering Columbus' projected growth over the next few years. City leaders say relocation can open up valuable commercial and public revenue opportunities and reduce potential safety hazards to a growing population.

"If there were an accident in the rail yard, the entire downtown would have to evacuate, closing down the government and large and small businesses in this area," Mike Gaymon, chamber president and chief executive officer, said in a statement. "A win-win proposal would provide the railroad with a facility that enhances their capabilities while providing Columbus with approximately 80 acres to develop in the middle of town."

The 88-acre rail yard is operated by Virginia-based Norfolk Southern, a shipping and transportation company with about 21,200 miles of railroad running through local cities like Columbus, Opelika and Phenix City.

Through the study, ENSR of Norcross will identify possible ways to relocate the rail yard while maintaining or improving Norfolk Southern's delivery system.

The rail freight analysis will determine current rail freight volumes coming through the yard and potential changes in traffic volume.

ENSR has worked on brown field redevelopment in the past. The company is also working with EDAW, a California-based environmental consulting firm, on the Columbus-Fort Benning Joint Land Use Plan.