Rails Compete Over Corridors

Rails Compete Over Corridors

Norfolk Southern Railway is counting on approval of its plan to expand and upgrade its Toledo, Ohio, intermodal yard to keep pace with rival CSX Transportation in a race for eastern railroad supremacy.

The $12.3 million project, made possible mainly with a federal stimulus grant and state loan and grant money, will allow NS to untangle railyard congestion from multiple types of train moves so its Toledo yard can process more loads of marine containers or truck containers and trailers — and none to soon.

CSX is just months away from opening a large, new intermodal hub at North Baltimore, Ohio, south of Toledo. That project, years in the making, will cost about $175 million and will be the first and western-most piece of CSX’s emerging National Gateway double-stack corridor program. It also will allow CSX to streamline ocean container flow across the continent, a point CSX is exploiting in attempting to woo former NS customers.

The NS project is more narrowly focused, but would help keep NS competitive for box shipments in northwest Ohio. “This project streamlines our intermodal operations in Toledo and improves the efficiency of Airline Yard,” said Bob Huffman, NS’s vice president of intermodal operations.

The Ohio Rail Development Commission this month said NS could proceed with the project, which reportedly includes upgrading signals, extending track and new machinery for the yard.

Railroad and state officials noted the Airline Yard is on a major junction for trains moving to and from Detroit. As part of one of the nation’s busiest rail freight corridors, it has heavy pass-through traffic, they said.

But box shipments must keep to tight schedules to compete effectively with trucking, and given the yard’s congestion “many intermodal trains bypass Toledo for other intermodal facilities in the Midwest,” the officials said.

The rail commission’s notice allows NS to start buying construction materials to put its redesign in motion. The agency is contributing $425,000 from a safety account, and the Ohio Department of Development is providing a $2.75 million loan. The federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act supplied a $6.5 million grant for the project, leaving NS to cover about $2.6 million in upfront costs.

NS has not issued a formal project schedule, but Toledo is banking on this as another in a series of freight-sector developments to help build the city’s commercial clout.

Contact John D. Boyd at jboyd@joc.com.