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National Gateway; $700 million CSX initiative to have local impact

The Cumberland Times-News (MD)

It's a $700-million venture that while it may not involve construction along the rails through Cumberland, it will have an impact on them.

Earlier this month, CSX Corp. revealed its plans for what's known as the National Gateway, a public-private partnership designed to "create a highly efficient transportation link between the Mid-Atlantic ports and the Midwest."

Annually, railroad tracks carry about 76 million tons of freight through Maryland. By 2020, it's estimated that the rails will carry more than 25 billion tons of freight nationwide.

National Gateway would allow CSX to "double stack" its intermodal trains, which is transportation that uses more than one carrier, such as rails and tractor-trailers.

An obvious problem is clearance and the need to make sure trains have room to move through tunnels.

National Gateway has two phases, one of which would require CSX to build or expand intermodal terminals where product is exchanged between the trains and trucks. At the same time, CSX, state and federal governments would work to create the "double-stack clearance" necessary for such trains. These would be below public overpasses along the railroad.

"One immediate benefit is as this gets built, it takes trucks off the interstates, including Interstate 68," Bob Sullivan, CSX spokesman, said. "There are different benefits, and one of the main ones is the environment because this will reduce some of the material that goes into the air. It also will reduce the wear and tear on highways."

CSX has committed $300 million* to the project and will work with several states and the federal government to secure the remaining $400 million. To date, Ohio is the only state to sign on for the effort and CSX chose Pacer International, a CSX customer in Dublin, Ohio, as the site of the announcement.

"We're talking with all states and it's being well received and well thought of," Sullivan said, noting the plan is to have the project completed by about 2015.

The rail corridors to be enhanced include the Interstate 70/Interstate 76 corridor between Washington and northwest Ohio through Pittsburgh; I-95 corridor between North Carolina and Baltimore through Washington; and what's known as the Carolina corridor between Wilmington and Charlotte, N.C.

CSX expects the initiative to create thousands of jobs.

"More and more, the nation is becoming aware of the tremendous safety, economic and environmental benefits that railroads create," Michael Ward, chairman, president and chief executive officer of CSX, said in a news release. "Our trains can move a ton of freight 423 miles on a single gallon of fuel, and one train can carry the load of more than 280 trucks."

Cambridge Systematics, a transportation research firm, conducted a study of the National Gateway and found that for every $1 in public monies invested, $8 will be seen in public benefits. The study noted that by "improving the flow of freight and shifting freight transportation from the highway to the railway, the initiative will improve safety, relieve congestion, benefit the environment and reduce highway maintenance costs."

CSX rails cover about 21,000 miles in 23 eastern states and Washington and connect to more than 70 ocean, river and lake ports.