CSX, Port of Baltimore double-stack intermodal plans derailed

CSX, Port of Baltimore double-stack intermodal plans derailed

The attempt by CSX Transportation and the Port of Baltimore to gain double-stack container service to and from the port took a major hit Thursday after the state of Maryland withdrew funding for a planned intermodal terminal.

Maryland Department of Transportation Secretary James Smith Jr. said the state won’t provide $30 million in capital and $1.45 million for planning work to build the facility in western Baltimore. CSX wasn’t able to address residential and business concerns “to the satisfaction” of the transportation department and the city of Baltimore, according to an MDOT statement. CSX wasn’t immediately available for comment.

While Norfolk Southern Railway provides on-dock railcar service to the port, CSX is Baltimore’s only provider of on-dock intermodal rail service, port spokesman Richard Scher said. NS has a nearby intermodal terminal with drayage service to the port.

Aside from giving CSX better economies of scale, double-stack also could relieve terminal congestion, a problem many U.S. ports face as volume grows. The Port of Baltimore’s container traffic rose 6.2 percent year-over-year in the first half of 2014, making it the sixth fastest-growing port on the U.S. East Coast.

“This is very disappointing for all concerned, but we remain deeply committed to working with all stakeholders to develop a long-term solution that brings double-stack capacity to the state and enhances the competitiveness of the Port of Baltimore,” Smith said in a statement.

MDOT pledged to work with CSX and other freight stakeholders to find ways to more effectively move freight through the city. Ideas include making operations at the Seagirt Marine terminal more efficient, giving incentives to shippers and reconstructing Amtrak’s Baltimore & Potomac Tunnel with a high enough clearance to allow the double-stacking of containers.

CSX told JOC.com it remains committed to leveraging intermodal freight as a competitive advantage for the Port of Baltimore. "We continue exploring — with the state, the port and Ports America — an approach that maximizes the available resources to strengthen Baltimore’s leadership position as a key facility in the U.S. east coast freight network," CSX said.

The planned intermodal terminal at Morrell Park would have allowed CSX to gain greater efficiencies of scale, as vertical clearances prevent double-stacking between the railroad’s Mt. Clare Yard in southwest Baltimore and the Seagirt Marine Terminal. The intermodal terminal plan is part of CSX’s $850 million in public-private partnerships aimed at better connecting mid-Atlantic ports and the Midwest.

The ability of Baltimore residents and businesses to derail CSX’s plan to build the terminal in Morrell Park emboldens those living in southwest Washington, D.C., that are fighting against the railroad’s plans to rebuild and expand the Virginia Avenue tunnel. CSX says the 110-year-old, 4,000-foot tunnel needs to be reconstructed to allow for double-stacking, while many residents fear the railroad will transport more oil shipments on the line. Intense local pushback against the $200 million project helped spur the Federal Highway Administration to delay, until Sept.15, its  decision on the expansion.

Local efforts to block proposed freight projects are nothing new. But the pushback appears to be fiercer — and sometimes savvier. The growth of intermodal is driving railroads to build terminals closer to population centers, raising the possibility of tension with local residents and businesses. High-profile rail accidents involving oil shipments have also alarmed communities, including one in southwest Washington that wants CSX to guarantee that they won’t move hazardous chemicals through the tunnel. CSX said it only shipped a handful of oil loads through tunnel last year and the majority of shipments are containers, but it can’t guarantee it won’t ship hazardous chemicals through the 110-year-old tunnel.

Contact Mark Szakonyi at mszakonyi@joc.com and follow him on Twitter: @szakonyi_joc.