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National Gateway (Editorial)

The Cumberland-Times News (MD)

Two bridge projects will improve rail traffic in area

An upgrade to the nation’s rail transportation will have an impact locally next year when improvements are made to the Graham Tunnel and the old Western Maryland Railway bridge at Mexico Farms.

Those two projects are just two of many bridge projects being undertaken as part of what is called The National Gateway. Bridge heights and specifications are being changed to allow for passage of double-stacked cards, each carrying two containers of freight. These cars allow twice the amount of freight transported per rail car, according to Sharon Daboin, resident vice president of State Government and Community Affairs to CSX.

The double stack cars allow a single train to carry the load of more than 280 trucks, Daboin said. By moving 10 percent of the current highway freight to the rails, fuel consumption could be cut by about 1 billion gallons per year, Daboin briefed members of the Western Maryland Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society about the changes. She said the improvements will mean jobs, cost savings for shipping and better ability for the railroad to compete in international markets. They will also improve the impact of transportation on the environment.

Rail cars need 21 feet of clearance, and often older tunnels and bridges spanning rail lines don’t provide the needed clearance. The old bridge near Mexico Farms, also known as the CSXT bridge, will be removed to provide clearance for the main line track below. The portals at each end of the Graham Tunnel, across from Magnolia, W.Va., will be expanded.

The inner arch liner will be replaced, cutting back the lining until engineers reach the bare mountain rock from which the tunnel was originally carved. Cost estimates are not yet available.  Both projects are slated to begin in 2011, with the bridge project completed within the calendar year and the tunnel project completed in 2012.

The project should relieve traffic congestion by taking some trucks off the highway. Daboin sees the rails and trucks as complementary, rather than competing, transport options. UPS is a big proponent of the project, she said. About 40 percent of UPS?shipping occurs via rail, she said.

Rail transportation has long been an economic driver in our tri-state region. It is good to see CSX investing in projects that will benefit the rail industry and our region well into the future.