Sharing Space

Sharing Space

Copyright 2003, Traffic World, Inc.

Canadian National Railway, CSX Intermodal and the city of Memphis, Tenn., believe that their planned Super Terminal will be a boon to efficient intermodal distribution in the mid-South region. But it also may serve to highlight the limits of cooperation attainable by competing railroads.

The two railroads and the city announced July 3 their final agreement to jointly build the 155-acre facility to be located in the Frank C. Pidgeon Industrial Park in southwest Memphis, with plans to break ground in September. It will have an initial capacity of 200,000 lifts per year and will allow both CN and CSXI to expand their growing intermodal operations in the area.

But the terminal - so far, at least - is a far cry from what was originally envisioned. Eight years ago local government planners had in mind a huge intermodal terminal hub that was to include Union Pacific Railroad, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway and Norfolk Southern, as well as CSX and Illinois Central (which merged with CN in 1998). However, in 1997 UP decided to move its intermodal operations across the Mississippi River to Marion, Ark. Over the next few years BNSF made it known that it was considering several sites other than the Super Terminal and then earlier this year said it wasn''t interested in the Super Terminal at all. And, NS "has no plans to participate in the project at this time," said spokeswoman Susan Terpay.

The problem came down to competition and track ownership, according to an intermodal industry consultant familiar with the history of the terminal. Because CN owns the rail lines adjacent to the site of the new terminal, the other railroads would have had to negotiate with CN for terminal access. "Most of the railroads didn''t want to have to do that," this consultant said. "CN would have benefited from the others being there, since everyone would have had to run over their rail lines to get to it."

Despite the scaled-down version, the terminal is an example of yet another successful public-private investment in the rail industry. CN and CSX will provide $25 million for the project, with the Port of Memphis and Shelby County investing another $28 million. It will feature five tracks with parking spots for 1,800 trailers or container chassis. CN and CSXI jointly will select an operator for the terminal. The terminal will replace CN''s Johnston intermodal yard, which is adjacent to the new site and from which CSXI rents space.

"CN and CSXI jointly designed the Memphis Super Terminal to be the premier intermodal terminal in the Memphis market," said CSX Corp. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Michael Ward. "Intermodal business in this market is growing and the new Memphis Super Terminal will provide our customers with an excellent location, superior service and capacity for business growth."

CN President and CEO E. Hunter Harrison noted: "The Memphis Super Terminal will be a modern facility that will enhance our ability to provide shippers the predictable and reliable movement of goods demanded by today''s just-in-time logistics. The shippers using the Super Terminal also will benefit from the added efficiency of railroads sharing assets in a single facility."

CN also pointed out that the construction startup is just the first phase of growth for the terminal, that there''s room for expansion and that CSXI may not be the only other participant. "The door is still open," said CN spokesman Jack Burke.

Others aren''t as optimistic. "It comes down to the railroads hanging on to that age-old attitude," said the intermodal source. "My territory is mine and it''s never going to be yours."