Rail, road network poses challenge to Port Citrus

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See PDF map at end of this story

By Mike Wright

INVERNESS — Citrus County officials believe in the viability of Port Citrus, but they also acknowledge a potential roadblock: How does product barged into the port get to its destination?

County Administrator Brad Thorpe, who also is the port director, said a key component to the port’s success is an “inland port” being developed in Marion County at U.S. 27 and Interstate 75.

Thorpe said product brought into Port Citrus could head to the inland port for distribution by rail or expressway to Jacksonville or up the East Coast.

But getting products to the inland port is problematic, he said.

The closest rail line crosses Dunnellon into Citrus County, ending a few miles south at the Progress Energy plant. Adding a spur to the likely port site would require a rail bridge across the Cross Florida Barge Canal.

Thorpe said officials met with CSX and Pinsly Railroad Co., a Plymouth, Fla., company that operates the regional connection track between the Progress Energy plant and a CSX line near Alachua.

“Right now there’s no interest, no demand for it,” he said. “There’s not enough activity.”

Thorpe said the feasibility study would determine whether a market will exist that would justify extending rail lines to the port.

Road travel is another barrier. Without available rail, the only way to transport products from the port to the distribution center is by trucks driving along county and state roads in Citrus, Levy and Marion counties.

Thorpe said county officials support not only completion of the Suncoast Parkway through Citrus County, but also a further extension of the parkway through Marion County to the distribution inland port.

As for the barge canal itself, Thorpe said the average depth of 13 feet will accommodate most barges and tugboats. He said the depth at the mouth of the canal drops at low tide, which could cause boat captains to adjust their schedules to avoid low tide.

Thorpe said the feasibility study should determine the type of material that is likely to be shipped to Port Citrus, and the best way to move it inland.

Chronicle reporter Mike Wright can be reached at 352-563-3228 or mwright@chronicleonline.com.

Map courtesy of www.pinsly.com
The Florida Northern Railroad connects to the Progress Energy power plant in Crystal River to a CSX rail line near Alachua. Citrus County officials would hope for a rail spur to Port Citrus, but acknowledge there isn’t enough business yet to justify it to the railroad.

Florida_rail_map.pdf466.23 KB