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    14.660
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  • OTRI.USA
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  • OTVI.USA
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  • TSTOPVRPM.ATLPHL
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American ShipperIntermodal

Baltimore mayor pushes CSX on intermodal site

   Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, worried that planning for a rail intermodal center to support more port-related cargo and economic growth is taking longer than anticipated, on Friday asked CSX Transportation to consider a site within city limits instead of suburban locations that face political opposition or excessive development costs.
   The freight railroad wants to build an intermodal container transfer facility (ICTF) south of the city to combine international traffic to and from the Port of Baltimore with domestic containers on its Camden line. The proposed project is part of the company’s National Gateway Initiative to upgrade its infrastructure so it can handle rail cars with containers stacked two high, doubling efficiency. City, state, and industry partners consider the intermodal terminal an essential component of their growth strategy for the port, which has a new privately-financed 50-foot berth and container cranes on the way capable of handling ultra-large container vessels that are expected to become more predominant on the trade lane from Asia once expansion of the Panama Canal is completed in 2015. Officials say efficient rail service will attract shippers in the prized Midwest market to the Port of Baltimore and they want to get a head start over other ports that still lack the water depth for big ships.
   Jacksonville, Fla.-based CSX has spent 18 months evaluating four potential sites along the I-95 corridor for the ICTF. The least expensive location – $150 million to be split by CSX and Maryland – is in Elkridge, Md., about 15 miles outside Baltimore. But the railroad has encountered strong neighborhood opposition to an industrial facility in the community, with residents arguing the terminal would create noise and congestion and complicate plans to build a new elementary school. Several local politicians have come out against the project after a series of public workshops and meetings. The other sites would cost significantly more – $175 million to $300 million – to build and make less sense from an operational standpoint because of their distance from the port.
   “As a strong advocate for the Port of Baltimore, I’m deeply troubled by the slow pace of this project and the ongoing resistance to the idea of strengthening our critical port infrastructure,” Rawlings-Blake wrote CSX Chairman and Chief Executive Michael Ward. 
   The mayor said the city can’t afford to miss an opportunity to generate transportation-related jobs as well as indirect business by enabling manufacturers to better move their goods to overseas markets. She urged the rail carrier to work with the city and the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) to identify a viable site for the intermodal terminal in Baltimore and hire city residents for jobs there.
   “Moving forward with an intermodal facility now, in a way that makes sense for our state, our port, and the private sector, is critical to keeping this economic engine humming,” she said.
   The port of Baltimore generates about 14,630 direct jobs and another 93,370 indirect jobs worth $3 billion statewide, as well as more than $300 million per year in state and local taxes, according to the Maryland Port Administration. 
   A new report by the Brookings Institution concludes that Baltimore is not generating enough quality, middle-class jobs to help low-income residents improve their quality of life. The metropolitan region ranks low among U.S. cities in exports as a share of total goods and services produced and needs to take better advantage of existing assets, such as its transportation and logistics system, to grow the economy, it said.
   Jobs in the transportation and logistics sector, such as truckers or railroad specialists, earn on average just under $50,000 per year, it added.
   MDOT is in the midst of conducting environmental impact reviews of the four potential sites and should complete the process later this year, spokesman Jack Cahalan said.
   “The Department is willing to listen to and discuss any options that will bring double-stack to the Baltimore region,” he said.
   In a statement e-mailed to American Shipper, CSX said: “We appreciate Mayor Rawlings-Blake’s strong interest and continued recognition of the importance of an intermodal terminal to the Port and the City of Baltimore, and her desire to strengthen the local economy, create jobs, and grow the city. CSX and MDOT continue to carefully evaluate all options to develop an intermodal facility that will quickly address the state’s growing freight transportation needs and the Port of Baltimore expansion.”  
   Ryan O’Doherty, the mayor’s spokesman, expressed hope that CSX officials will come to Baltimore soon and meet with Rawlings-Blake about an alternative terminal location.
   “We’re not sure what kind of sites would work for CSX. We want to hear from them,” he said. “I don’t think they had ever previously considered the city for whatever reason, and we want them to take a good look at that.”
   In a perfect world, the Seagirt Container Terminal at the Port of Baltimore would have direct double-stack service on the dock. But CSX is constrained by the 117-year-old Howard Street tunnel that is only tall enough for single containers on a chassis and has a single track. Enlarging the tunnel is considered prohibitively expensive given all the city infrastructure built over or around the tunnel and the lack of any federal funding on the horizon for such a project. CSX plans to run single-stacked container trains between the port and the intermodal terminal, where modern overhead cranes will build or breakdown double-stack units.
   (Read “Turning negative into positive” in the September issue of American Shipper and the online sidebar “Baltimore touts regional advantage” to learn more about the partnership between the state of Maryland, CSX and Ports America to make the Port of Baltimore a premier container port.)
Eric Kulisch

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