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Valley rails to get revamp

Warren Tribune Chronicle

WARREN - A nearly $850,000 million public and private effort to connect mid-Atlantic ports to midwest U.S. population and manufacturing markets using double-stack trains has railroad improvement projects scheduled for Trumbull and Mahoning counties.

What's going to be done locally includes bridge replacement and other projects necessary to provide the vertical clearance to allow train cars hauling two shipping containers stacked on top of one another.

It's part of a larger CSX Transportation initiative to more efficiently ship goods from east coast ports as they anticipate a large increase in freight traffic in the next decade, said railroad company spokesman Bob Sullivan.

"The idea is to increase the efficiency of rail by creating this corridor that will enable us to utilize existing technology, but very efficient and effective technology that allows us to stack shipping containers two high," Sullivan said.

The effort would decrease pollution and fuel use by reducing the amount of freight traveling on midwest U.S. highways, Sullivan said.

In Niles, the steel and wooden Fifth Street bridge will be replaced to provide the necessary clearance.

Rusty Orben, director of Public Affairs for Ohio CSX, said the project is among nine replacement or improvement projects included in the CSX initiative that's being paid for with $20 million in federal economic stimulus dollars. Work on the projects is set to begin next year, he said.

It was decided to replaced the structure because lowering the tracks was not geologically feasible, removing it permanently drew concern from safety services and raising the existing bridge drew worry because of it's age.

It made more sense to replace a more than 100-year-old bridge, Orben said.

"At the end of the day, you still would have a single lane bridge that was built in 1904," Orben said.

CSX requires bridges to be built with 23 feet of clearance to accommodate the double-stack trains.

There are 17 included projects in the CSX plan: Nine bridge replacement or improvement projects and the rest, mostly track lowering projects, Orben said.

Other local projects include replacing the Rock Springs Road bridge and building a rail interlock in Newton Falls and removing portions of an abandoned railroad bridge between Northwest Avenue and the Mahoning River in Youngstown.

The last clearance project is in Ashland County. Farther west, the system already can accommodate the double-stack trains, Orben said.

Sullivan said the initiative is a public/private combination and CSX is contributing $395 million. The rest, a combination of state and federal grants, will allow CSX to prepare for increased train volume and simultaneously, benefit the areas where the improvements are happening, Sullivan said.

In Ohio, it's estimated the public benefits would be $1.8 billion.

"We're making a substantial investment and it is with the benefit of public investment," Sullivan said. "We're able to do that much more and the public is able to get that much more benefit out of it."

Of the $842 million project, about $395 million is for clearance projects, including about $172 million to improve the Virginia Avenue tunnel in Washington D.C. About $447 million is terminal construction and improvement, Orben said.

In the summer, work began on a new intermodal terminal in North Baltimore to serve as a distribution hub.

"This is not new or experimental," Sullivan said. "It's extremely safe and used across the county. It's been found to be very effective, to be very safe."