Watch Now

Maryland gets federal funding for rail-served tunnel

Image: Wikipedia CSX freight train emerging from the north end of the Howard St. tunnel

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R) said Maryland has received a $125 million federal grant that the state hopes will lead to an expanded rail tunnel in Baltimore to allow for taller trains to travel to the Port of Baltimore.

The grant, awarded as part of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Infrastructure For Rebuilding America grant program, will go towards reconstructing the Howard Street Tunnel so that the tunnel can accommodate double-stacked intermodal containers. Hogan’s office says double-stacked trains will help reduce bottlenecks before trains reach the Helen Delich Bentley Port of Baltimore.

The state has been working on securing federal funding for years in part to encourage additional financial support from CSX (NYSE: CSX), whose trains use the tunnel. Maryland submitted the grant application in March. The state has said previously that funding for the reconstruction will come from multiple sources, including state and federal funding as well as from CSX. 

“For years, our administration has pursued funding for this critical project, and after a number of roadblocks, we are finally able to move forward on reconstruction,” Hogan said. “This grant will help us to break a coast-wide bottleneck, further bolstering our economic success at the Port of Baltimore and across the state. I want to thank the U.S. Department of Transportation, CSX and our partners at the Port for making this initiative a reality.”

CSX said it continues to support the tunnel project. The railroad had said previously that it would no longer provide financial support for the tunnel, but CSX reaffirmed its commitment to the tunnel last December 2018. It told Maryland lawmakers then that it would support the project so long as it would be able to secure public funding, according to local press reports.

“We congratulate Maryland on this award and will continue to work with them to move it forward,” CSX said on July 23. “CSX stands by our commitment to allocate $91 million toward the effort and will continue to work with our state and federal partners in the days ahead.”

The tunnel, which is 121 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, D.C. to allow for double-stacked trains. CSX completed reconstructing that tunnel in the fall of 2018.

The Port of Baltimore said on May 30 that 2018 was a record year for the port. Volumes have grown at the port since the 2016 expansion of the Panama Canal. 

In 2018, the Port of Baltimore handled a record 43 million tons of international cargo worth $59.7 billion, with state-owned public terminals handling 10.9 million tons of general cargo and 1 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs). That was the first time that the state-owned terminals handled more than 1 million TEUs.

The port, which was ranked 11th in 2018 among the major U.S. cargo ports in terms of volume, also ranked first in handling autos and light trucks, roll on/off heavy farm and construction machinery, imported sugar and imported gypsum. It is also ranked second in exported coal. 

Joanna Marsh

Joanna is a Washington, DC-based writer covering the freight railroad industry. She has worked for Argus Media as a contributing reporter for Argus Rail Business and as a market reporter for Argus Coal Daily.