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Rail important to state transportation plan, exec says

A Norfolk Southern hauls double-stack containers. (Photo/Norfolk Southern)
A Norfolk Southern hauls double-stack containers. Photo/Norfolk Southern)
By Chuck Crumbo
Published March 21, 2012

COLUMBIA — A state transportation plan aimed at moving cargo from the Port of Charleston to manufacturing plants and distribution centers across the Southeast needs to have a key role for railroads, said the state manager for one of the Class I rail lines.

“We can be a part of the solution as communities and states begin to look at how they can absorb more freight in the system,” said Brian Gwin, South Carolina manager for Norfolk Southern Corp., at the recent 2012 TDL Summit hosted by the TDL Council of New Carolina.

Rail experts say South Carolina is well-connected by railroads. The state has about 2,400 miles of tracks and is served by two Class I rail companies: Norfolk Southern, based in Norfolk, Va.; and CSX Corp., of Jacksonville, Fla.

The state Department of Transportation is in the midst of developing a 25-year statewide multimodal transportation plan. The plan will prioritize future transportation infrastructure requirements and serve as a tool to spur job creation, business expansion and education, officials said.

It also will analyze infrastructure requirements, as well as rail, freight and transit components.

Advocates for bolstering the state’s transportation and logistics network say the need is urgent. They point to major expansion project that will increase the capacity of the Panama Canal by 2014, allowing the largest cargo ships in the world to call on Charleston and other Southeastern ports.

“It’s very important that we keep our eye on the ball,” Gwin said. “The Port of Charleston is extremely important. I have zero doubt that the harbor is going to be deepened” for the larger ships.

“My concern is once containers get on land, how are we going to get them out,” he said.

Railroads have been working on the problem of congested highways for years, Gwin said. Norfolk Southern, which rolled up about $11.2 billion in revenues last year, operates in 22 states and spends about $1.5 billion annually on infrastructure and maintaining its 20,000-mile rail system, he said.

The transportation company is in the process of expanding its network from the Northeast to the Southeast and Midwest, Gwin said.

One of the projects is the 1,400-mile-long Crescent Corridor, which runs from New Jersey to Louisiana and Texas. Construction, including new terminals in Charlotte, Memphis, and Birmingham, Ala., is expected to be completed in 2013. The company plans to add 28 new trains daily to the stretch.

The Crescent Corridor’s cost is estimated at $2.5 billion, with Norfolk Southern sharing the cost with state and federal agencies.

Norfolk Southern also joined with state agencies in a $195 million project to provide double stack service from Virginia to the Ohio Valley. The project required raising clearances in 28 tunnels and another 24 overhead obstacles. Overall, about six miles of tunnels were modified following completion of the project in 2010.

By raising the tunnel clearances, the company was able to reduce the distance that the double-stacked containers had to travel, as well as save on fuel needed to haul the cargo.

“There’s almost no intermodal service to Northeast Texas and the Gulf,” Gwin said.

Moving containers from the road to rail leads to fewer trucks making long-haul trips on interstates, Gwin said. Trucks won’t disappear, though. According to the American Trucking Associations, trucks haul 100% of consumer goods and nearly 70% of all freight. Also, 80% of cities and towns in the United States receive goods by truck.

Leaders in the private and public sectors need to be willing to spend money on transportation projects like the Crescent Corridor, Gwin said.

“The winners are those who make the decision to invest,” he said.

Reach Chuck Crumbo at 803-401-1094, ext. 204.


Added: 22 Mar 2012

Gentlemen/Ladies, About 40 yrs.ago(about 19660), while teaching at Clemson U. I served on the AIA's Community Planning Committee. While meeting in Wash.,DC, I had occassin to meet the head of the US Transportation Dept. While having coffee, I had a casual conversation with him about railroad companies and government selling off old unused railroad rtghts of way, and what a bad idea that was for long range planning. Some day, the US will get serious about rapid transit to all communities, and acquireing these rights of ways will be almost impossible and where possible, very expensive. These ribbons of real estate should be bought up by the Federal Government; used for recreation in the interrim; and saved for rapid transportation in the future. Also, in the future, these transit lines and stations will represent the future centers of towns and communities where ever they exist. Future planning along these lines needs should have started 50 Yrs. ago. Thanks, Ed Pinckney, FASLA

Ed Pinckney