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$175 million rail project gets under way in Wood County: Terminal boosts area jobs outlook

The Toledo Blade

Michael Shelton estimates that half his family lost their jobs in recent months as auto-industry suppliers in the region have closed factories or reduced production.
So when construction began three months ago at what is to become CSX Corp.'s Northwest Ohio Trans-Shipment Terminal along the railroad tracks west of town, six of the North Baltimore High School sophomore's relatives were ready to work.

"Most of them had just gotten laid off, and it helps the family a lot" that the construction work was there, Michael said yesterday after he and about 30 other members of the high school band performed during a ceremonial groundbreaking for the $175 million rail terminal that will stretch for several miles along the CSX Transportation main line across southern Wood County.

With school not yet in session, Michael, who plays the mellophone -- a marching-band version of the French horn -- and his schoolmates all were there on volunteered time, and they were joined in a marginally air-conditioned tent on a warm, sticky northwest Ohio afternoon to hear Gov. Ted Strickland and other dignitaries laud the CSX project, scheduled for completion in early 2011.

"Ohio is a great location to do business in, and this project will only further Ohio as the ideal place for distributing goods," the governor said, citing North Baltimore's location within "easy travel distance of a great portion of the American population."

"It really is going to make northwest Ohio a major national logistics center," said Michael Ward, CSX's chief executive officer, who described the terminal as a major component of a broader, $840 million "National Gateway" plan designed to develop rail-borne container shipping between mid-Atlantic ports and the Midwest.

Construction will employ about 400 people, Mr. Ward said, and along with about 200 permanent jobs at the terminal, the development of warehouses and other distribution-related businesses nearby is expected to generate as many as 2,600 additional jobs.

"As freight grows, and highways can't handle it all, more and more trucking companies want to partner with us at facilities like this," the CSX chief said, adding that the North Baltimore center will be the most advanced and "environmentally friendly" facility of its kind in the world.

At the terminal, CSX will bring in trains loaded with freight containers that will be broken down, sorted by destination, and then reloaded onto other trains for delivery.

Some containers will be trucked for part of their journey, although the railroad's preliminary estimate is that only about 70 such shipments will arrive or depart from the terminal on a typical day to start. If CSX's jobs forecast is accurate, however, major shippers will build warehouses nearby so that they, too, can store, sort, or even do light assembly work on their products.

U.S. Rep. Bob Latta (R., Bowling Green) said promoting fuel-efficient rail transportation of freight will help cut U.S. dependence on petroleum, of which 65 percent of its supply is imported.

"If we can reduce that, that helps America," Mr. Latta said. "This project right here is going to be helping America move forward."

Young Shelton said he expects his relatives now working on the terminal's construction will seek permanent jobs there once the facility opens.

"We're just hoping it brings jobs, a lot of extra jobs. The local community has been hit hard by the auto industry's problems," said William Cameron, a North Baltimore village councilman, noting that one plant in the village itself closed altogether and another substantially cut production.

While there was initial opposition to the terminal project -- manifest in "No CSX Intermodal Railyard" signs that sprouted across the village and around the rural countryside nearby after word got out about the railroad's plan -- Mr. Cameron said he believes most of that has diminished.

And Kyle Clark, the North Baltimore schools superintendent, said the terminal project and forecasts for related development are "nothing but positive for the school district.

"Our community is going to grow. Nothing but positive things can happen from this," Mr. Clark said.

The terminal actually is being developed by Evansville Western, a CSX subsidiary that bought about 500 acres in an area roughly bounded by the CSX tracks, Liberty Hi Road, State Rt. 18, and a property line parallel to and east of Range Line Road to build the project.

Earth-moving that began in May has resulted in a large mound along Route 18 to screen the site from neighboring homesteads, while track grading and construction also has begun, particularly at the eastern end.

Liberty Hi is closed while tracks are added to its railroad crossing just north of Route 18, and Chris Durden, CSX's director of terminal support, said discussions are under way with the Ohio Department of Transportation and Wood County about building a bridge to carry Liberty Hi over the tracks -- a project expected to cost between $5 million and $6 million.

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, meanwhile, announced an agreement with CSX earlier this week to replace warning lights and gates at six other nearby railroad crossings, including four in North Baltimore and two in and near Hoytville, to support the terminal project.

The Strickland administration also has agreed to spend $20 million, requested by CSX, to raise or replace bridges over one of its lines east of Greenwich, Ohio, to allow trains carrying freight containers stacked two-high to run on those tracks, as part of the National Gateway Project.