KANSAS CITY SOUTHERN and Norfolk Southern have agreed to form a joint venture to improve the 515 km KCS route between Meridian, Mississippi, and Shreveport, Louisiana.

Under the `Meridian Speedway’ project, KCS, which retains operational control, will transfer the line to the joint venture for a 70% stake. NS will hold the other 30% and invest $300m to fund the upgrading work.

The two railways plan to increase substantially the capacity of the single-track line, which parallels the Gulf Coast but has carried little of the growing east-west freight traffic. The four-year programme includes longer passing loops and some sections of double track, plus signalling renewal to allow increased speeds.

According to CEOWick Goodman, NS will spend $1146m in capital investment during 2006. Infrastructure improvements will account for $735m, notably $484m for rails, sleepers, ballast and bridges, $37m for signalling, communications, and electrical works and $35m for maintenance of way equipment; $15m will fund environmental projects and upgrades to level crossings.

Another $385m will go on rolling stock, including the purchase of 138 six-axle diesel locos and rebuilding 225 multilevel auto racks. Other initiatives include capacity expansion work at intermodal terminals.