The Chattanooga Choo-Choo is getting a German connection.
With nine of every 10 cars Volkswagen assembles at its Chattanooga plant to leave by rail, workers are closing in on linking the massive factory to the nation via steel wheels.
"It's a big part of this project," said Steve Leach, the city's public works administrator, about connecting rail to the $1 billion VW plant.
About $6 million in taxpayer-funded work is funding likely the biggest rail overhaul in and around the former Volunteer Army Ammunition Plant complex at least since the Vietnam War and potentially World War II, officials said.
Leach said two 1941-era railroad bridges are coming down to make way for new lines.
A Hickory Valley Road railroad trestle is being dismantled now, Leach said. A new bridge will span three tracks, he said.
"That bridge was at the end of its useful life," Leach said. "We really did have to replace it."
In addition, a 69-year-old railroad trestle over Bonny Oaks Drive will be removed in the near future, he said, likely forcing closure of the road for a day or so.
Guenther Scherelis, VW's general manager for communication in Chattanooga, said rail transportation is reliable for the automaker as it delivers vehicles made at the plant to dealers across the country.
Also, rail fits in with the company's environmental initiatives by taking some truck traffic off the highways, he said.
VW will use both Norfolk Southern and CSX rail lines serving Enterprise South industrial park. VW plans to begin production in early 2011 and assemble 150,000 vehicles annually.
About $3 million in federal money is helping to pay for the rail projects. The grant money came from the federal stimulus package.
The rail improvements aren't just for VW, but also for other companies such as Gestamp Corp., which has built a $90 million plant to supply components to VW.
Other rail improvements include fixing a failing timber box culvert between Noah Reid Road and Hickory Valley Road and grading work for lead track approaches that will enter the VW facility.
VW is building its own loading ramps and whatever it needs for handling finished cars.
Contact Mike Pare at email@example.com or 423-757-6318.