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National Gateway seeks investment in rail


Aiming to clear choke points on the freight rail lines between East Coast ports and Cleveland, a national effort backed by rail advocates including CSX Corporation is aiming to improve 192 miles of lines in western Pennsylvania within the decade. The National Gateway advocates a public-private partnership for the massive infrastructure project, which would allow continuous double-stack freight car traffic from the East Coast to Cleveland.

Citing forecasts of a 67 percent increase in the freight industry by 2020, the project argues that a $700 million regional rail upgrade will ease congestion, create jobs throughout the region, and reduce pollution. Rail advocates argue that every rail car trip removes approximately three freight truck trips from congested highways.

The I-76/I-70 rail corridor in Western Pennsylvania is one of three regions targeted for improvements under the proposal, which envisions Ohio, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania each contributing to the project.

"Right now, it's tough to get through Pennsylvania. There are problems with overhead bridges. In some other locations, not necessarily Pennsylvania, it's a tunnel," says CSX spokesman Bob Sullivan. "You can lower the track or raise the bridges. For both things, you're going to work with the state."

CSX, which owns and operates the Pennsylvania lines, would contribute 47 percent of the project's cost, with affected states sharing the balance. Ohio has applied on behalf of all states for $258 million in Transportation Investment Generating Economy Recovery (TIGER) discretionary funds, created as part of the federal stimulus package.

"Our goal, if federal funding comes through, is to have most of work done by end of 2012," says Sullivan. "We're really looking at 2015. That is when the expansion of the Panama Canal is supposed to be done." Canal improvements to allow bigger freighters through locks will bring more cargo to East Coast ports.

New intermodal facilities, like the one off I-81 in Chambersburg, offer other efficiencies, says Sullivan. The south-central site is used by Schneider, Swift, Pacer and Celtic to transfer freight between rail and truck. "We are seeing some growth in traffic , and will see other companies put distribution centers close by," says Sullivan. Target, Wal-Mart, Lowe's and Sears are among the major customers of the center. Another intermodal center is envisioned opposite the Conway Yards on the Ohio River northwest of Pittsburgh.
Source: Bob Sullivan, CSX; Wes Irvin, National Gateway