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Port of Baltimore nets $15.6M to bolster intermodal rail yards

Federal Railroad Administration grant comes as nearby Howard Street Tunnel expansion is underway

The Port of Baltimore. (Photo: Maryland Port Administration)

The Port of Baltimore has been awarded $15.6 million from the Federal Railroad Administration to improve intermodal rail yard infrastructure at the port.

The improvements will include the construction of four working rail tracks totaling 17,670 track feet and two crane rail beams totaling 7,000 linear feet at the Seagirt Marine Terminal. These improvements will help support increased demand for double-stacked trains carrying containerized cargo, according to the Maryland Port Administration. 

Project funds will also go toward converting existing diesel-fueled railyard equipment to electrified equipment. 

The port received the funding from FRA’s grant-awarding Consolidated Rail and Infrastructure Safety Improvements program, also known as the CRISI program.

Additionally, Ports America Chesapeake, the Maryland Port Administration’s public-private partner at the Seagirt Terminal, will match $6.7 million of the FRA grant. 

“Maryland’s Port of Baltimore is one of the busiest ports in the nation and having good rail operations is extremely important,” said Maryland Transportation Secretary James F. Ports Jr. in a release. “This grant will help us to continue positioning the port to remain as one of Maryland’s leading economic engines.”

FRA’s award comes as construction to expand the Howard Street Tunnel in Baltimore is underway. The project, which aims to raise the clearance of the 127-year-old tunnel so that double-stacked railcars can pass through, broke ground in November 2021 and is expected to be completed in 2025. Project supporters, which include federal and state officials and CSX (NASDAQ: CSX), say it provides double-stack capacity from Maine to Florida. 

They say the project, which also includes clearance improvements at 21 other locations between Baltimore and Philadelphia, could increase the port’s business by about 160,000 containers annually as well as facilitate rail traffic between Baltimore and the Ohio Valley and into Chicago.

“Improving intermodal rail operations is one of our top priorities and the infrastructure improvements made possible through this grant will seamlessly complement our Howard Street Tunnel expansion project,” said William P. Doyle, executive director for the Port of Baltimore.  “Our rail service from the Port of Baltimore to the Midwest is already increasing as we pick up shippers diverting around congested gateways.”      

In announcing the grant award from FRA, the port also provided updates on other capital initiatives. Ports America Chesapeake invested $166 million for four additional supersized, neo-Panamax container cranes at the Seagirt Terminal, and those cranes have recently been put into operation. The cranes will serve an additional deepwater berth that was completed last year, the port said. 

The Port of Baltimore also welcomed last month a new container line service, the Zim Shipping Lines’ E-commerce Baltimore Express, which runs between China and Southeast Asia and the U.S. East Coast. Earlier this year, vessel operator MSC introduced container service between the port and the Indian subcontinent and the Mediterranean region. 

The port said Baltimore has handled nearly 50 ad hoc ship calls during the recovery stages of the pandemic, including vessels diverted by Zim to Baltimore that were not on a regularly scheduled service call.

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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.