State and federal officials on Monday finally broke ground on a $466 million project to expand the Howard Street Tunnel so it can accommodate double-stacked container trains to and from the Port of Baltimore.
The Baltimore project had been discussed for years, with CSX (NASDAQ: CSX) nearly backing out because of estimated costs rising as high as between $1 billion and $4 billion. But the guarantee of federal and state funding helped push the project forward. Advances in construction technology helped to lower the project’s costs.
The project will heighten the vertical clearance at the Howard Street Tunnel and at 21 other locations between Baltimore and Philadelphia in order to allow double-stacked trains. The tunnel itself will be reconstructed to provide an additional 18 inches of clearance, while three other Baltimore bridges will be modified or replaced: the North Avenue bridge, the Guilford Avenue bridge and Harford Road bridge. Track lowering will also occur in locations in Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania.
The expansion of the tunnel will enable the Port of Baltimore to compete more effectively with other ports for the containerized cargo market, according to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who called the expansion “an absolute game changer, not just for Maryland, but for the entire region.” In preparation to handle that cargo, four new mega-cranes arrived at the port in September, according to the release from Hogan’s office.
According to the breakdown in funding of the tunnel project, $205.5 million will come from Maryland, $125 million will come from a federal infrastructure grant, $113 million will come from CSX, $22.5 million will come from Pennsylvania and $3 million will come from federal highway formula funding.
The project is expected to be completed sometime in 2025.
Attending the Monday groundbreaking were CSX President and CEO Jim Foote, Federal Railroad Administration Deputy Administrator Amit Bose, Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) Secretary Greg Slater, and MDOT Maryland Port Administration Executive Director William P. Doyle.
“CSX is proud to officially break ground on the Howard Street Tunnel project and move forward on an initiative made possible by the collaboration between state, port and federal partners,” Foote said in a release. “This project will modernize our rail infrastructure in this key corridor and help improve freight transportation, increase freight rail capacity and further intermodal connectivity between the markets we serve. It will enhance rail’s competitiveness with trucks, providing customers with a sustainable alternative and remove more traffic from the highways.”
The tunnel, which is more than 120 years old, is not tall enough to allow for double-stacked intermodal containers. Reconstructing the tunnel has been part of CSX’s greater vision, called National Gateway, to facilitate intermodal and carload shipments along the East Coast. The National Gateway initiative also called for reconstructing the Virginia Avenue Tunnel in Washington to allow for double-stacked trains. CSX completed reconstructing that tunnel in the fall of 2018.