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CSX plans $190 million rail upgrade in Ohio

The Plain Dealer

Transport company CSX Corp. announced plans Thursday for $190 million in improvements along key Ohio rail lines as well as development of two major freight terminals in the state.

The projects, which the railroad said it will finance with its own resources along with what it hopes will be federal and state contributions, are part of a larger initiative the Jacksonville, Fla., company calls "the national gateway."

An expected $130 million to build the two Ohio terminals and another $60 million to widen rail bridges and tunnels to accommodate larger loads, the company said, are part of a bigger plan. It's an estimated $700 million initiative to link Great Lakes and Midwest manufacturing venues with the East Coast and some of its deep-water ports.

Once the terminals and rail improvements are completed, within seven years, company Vice President Lisa Manikin said, "the gateway will provide a highly efficient freight transportation link" for containers of products and commodities that will move longer distances on rail, shorter hauls on trucks.

The ports included in the initiative are in Baltimore, Portsmouth, Va., and Wilmington, N.C. CSX's goal is to create easier access for more heavily laden freight cars between manufacturing centers in all parts of Ohio and the rest of the United States and the world.

The rail company already has purchased land in Wood County near North Baltimore and in Dublin, west of Columbus, on which to build the intermodal terminals that will facilitate transfer of containers between rail cars and trucks.

Mancini, vice president of strategic infrastructure initiatives, did not commit to a date when construction would begin. But the Wood County terminal is scheduled for completion by 2010.

She said the terminals are likely to spur development of distribution and logistics centers nearby, bringing jobs to both parts of the state.

The terminals themselves typically are not big employers, she said. "But we would expect each one could draw 2,000 outside jobs" to any neighboring distribution facilities that companies like Wal-Mart, Home Depot and The Limited might build.

Creating more jobs is an often-mentioned goal of Gov. Ted Strickland and his administration. The governor spoke at Thursday's announcement, which took place in the offices of Pacer International, a CSX customer and logistics and freight-transportation provider in Dublin.

The state has not made any commitment of resources to the railroad's ambitious project. "The governor is there to support the company's investment in Ohio," said Keith Daily, a Strickland spokesman.

Railroad transport of the products made in Ohio and of the materials used in their manufacture has many advantages, including fuel efficiency, low levels of harmful air emissions and fewer trucks on highways, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Companies like CSX are getting more long-haul freight business each year. The transportation department has predicted rail freight will nearly double in the next 20 years.

Refinements over the past decade in the intermodal method of freight transport has simplified and rendered more efficient and reliable the transfer of containers between trucks and train cars.

Norfolk Southern, a railroad with an intermodal terminal in Maple Heights, smoothly transfers hundreds of carloads of containers each week. Big, modern terminals like those CSX plans will handle thousands of such carloads.

Most of the infrastructure improvements the company intends are to make room in tunnels and on bridges for double-stacked rail cars, which pile containers on top of containers to ship long distances. Conventional container cars lug as many as 280 boxes. Double-stacked cars can handle 400 and stand 22 feet high.

The 79 bottlenecks CSX has identified along its 6,000 miles of Ohio track include bridges and tunnels that need relatively small refinements to provide the clearance such loads require.

Benefits to Ohio industry could be less-expensive transportation for goods in and out of the state via less fuel-hungry vehicles and a possible inducement for shipping and distribution companies to open operations here.