The Maryland Port Administration and Ports America Chesapeake are looking forward to the opening of the new 50-ft. deep Berth IV at Seagirt Marine Terminal – and the prospect that the port will capture a lucrative chunk of the additional ship traffic passing through a widened Panama Canal after 2014. But an event this week in Virginia serves notice that the competition between Baltimore and Hampton Roads for this and other business remains intense.
On 9 September, Norfolk Southern (NS) Railway celebrates the recent opening of its so-called Heartland Corridor, stretching 1,031 miles from Norfolk, Va., to Columbus, Ohio, with lines radiating from the latter terminal to Chicago and elsewhere in the region. The corridor was established by increasing the vertical clearances in 28 tunnels under the Appalachian Mountains, allowing NS to move trains hauling double-stacked international marine containers from Hampton Roads to Ohio in one day and Chicago in two.
The double-stacking of containers allows railroads to move freight more efficiently, and can mean lower rates for “intermodal” customers who move their containerized freight using a truck-rail combination. That and the shorter distance to key Midwest markets gives NS – and the Port of Virginia in Hampton Roads – an important competitive boost.
But Norfolk Southern’s rail competitor, CSX, has been implementing its own response. CSX and NS both serve most of the major eastern U.S. ports, including Baltimore. But each railroad is pursuing an intermodal corridor strategy that leverages their unique system geography. For NS, the Heartland Corridor drives a Hampton Roads focus. For CSX, it’s Baltimore and Washington, D.C., among other points.
Regionally, CSX’s National Gateway calls for creating double-stack clearances between North Carolina and Baltimore via Washington. CSX also is aiming for another double-stack corridor from the Baltimore-D.C. area to northwest Ohio, which also is within easy reach of Chicago and points west.
In Maryland, this means raising bridges or lowering tracks. It also entails the construction of a new “BWI Terminal,” which will “augment the Maryland Port Administration’s ability to handle goods going to and coming from world markets,” according to CSX.
The CSX and NS efforts are “public-private partnerships,” where the railroads split the tab with the public sector to reflect the estimated private and public benefits of the projects. CSX puts the cost of National Gateway at $842 million, of which it is willing to spend $393 million. The federal government share would be $258 million, while state governments – including Maryland’s – are being asked to contribute another $191 million.
Likewise, the Heartland Corridor cost NS $141 million, federal taxpayers $111 million, and Virginia and Ohio another $10 million. NS also is pursuing the even more ambitious, 2,500-mile Crescent Corridor stretching from Louisiana to northern New Jersey. That collection of projects ultimately could carry a $2.5 billion price tag.