CSX Shows Off North Baltimore Container Facility

Four of the five wide-span electric cranes work the Northwest Ohio Intermodal Terminal nera North Baltimore on Tuesday. CSX opened the facility to the public during a grand opening event.

CSX opened the gates to the public on Tuesday at its Northwest Ohio Intermodal Terminal and 2,000 people came in to get a glimpse of the $175 million facility situated just west of North Baltimore. The open house featured the North Baltimore High School band and complimentary hot dogs, soft drinks, pretzels, ice cream bars and popcorn. CSX Chairman, President and CEO Michael Ward delivered brief remarks along with Ohio Lt. Governor Mary Taylor, who is from Akron.

“Ohio is so centrally located that by bringing the trains in here and reassembling them, we can reach so many different markets,” Ward said.

The 500-acre facility is expected to handle 2 million containers a year once fully operational. The terminal opened in late February and currently handles 18 to 20 trains a day. That is expected to increase to 28 to 30 trains daily in late August.

The North Baltimore intermodal facility is part of the $850 million CSX National Gateway network that is expected to be completed by 2014. Recent bridge projects in Akron to raise clearances on the Chicago-Pittsburgh route (former B&O) are part of the construction work related to building the National Gateway. Other bridges are expected to be replaced in Medina County and east of Ravenna.  Most of these are narrow, wood bridges built many decades ago.

The North Baltimore facility features five electric cranes that span the eight processing tracks and a truck lane. The cranes were built by a German company and are nearly silent except for occasional beeping sounds when they are making a move. The cranes lift containers 100 feet in the air to place them on the ground, on trucks or in rail well cars.  

The ability of the overhead cranes to work cars on eight tracks at a time sets the North Baltimore intermodal facility apart from other railroad intermodal yards. CSX officials say that typically the cranes or sideloaders used in railroad intermodal yards can work just one track at a time.

Over a 24-hour period, trains converge on the North Baltimore facility to interchange containers. The trains originate at various intermodal facilities scattered over the CSX system, including Cleveland. There are dedicated trains that interchange with Union Pacific and BNSF in Chicago. The westbound trains are blocked at North Baltimore so that they can run through the Windy City once they are handed over to BNSF or UP.

The western railroads in turn block the eastbound trains to be turned over to CSX crews in Chicago without the need for sorting. Previously, trains bound to or the CSX Chicago interchange were broken up in Chicago and reassembled, with some containers traveling across town by highway.

Upon arriving at the North Baltimore facility, well cars and their containers are scanned as they enter the yard. Some blocks of well cars and containers are detached and placed on one of the nine tracks in the support yard. The remaining well cars are moved into the eight processing tracks where the containers are removed and sorted.

Some containers are placed on the ground in stacks for loading onto trucks bound for points in Ohio, Indiana or Michigan, while others are grouped for reloading onto well cars. Sill other containers are removed from one well car and immediately placed into another well car.

Six-wheeled shuttle vehicle move contains among the five cranes to be sorted and loaded.  

The processing tracks typically handle well cars in 3,000-foot blocks, although each track is capable of handling a 24,000-foot block of well cars.  Once a block of well cars is loaded, it is moved to the support yard and coupled to the appropriate train.

Four locomotives are assigned to the North Baltimore to do the switching. There is also is usually road power hanging around the terminal waiting for the train it brought in to be reassembled before heading out east or west. Most trains are run-through operations, but some originate and terminate at the North Baltimore facility.

Although capable of handling trailer on flatcar trains, the North Baltimore is not handling those at present and the focus of operations is expected to continue to be containers. Thus some CSX intermodal trains will bypass the facility.

Article and Photographs by Craig Sanders

A crane prepares to lift a container and place it in a well car.

A shuttle vehicle moves a container from one crane to another.

Yardmaster Shane Schimpff tracks the progress of a train headed for the North Baltimore intermodal terminal on one of the six screens that show the dispatcher displays. The two screens to the left show the track layout and status of the North Baltimore facility.

The intermodal service representatives track the progress of the loading and unloading of the containers once they are at North Baltimore.

Just as the yardmaster is in charge of navigating the trains at the North Baltimore facility, the intermodal service representatives are responsible for navigating the containers in the terminal.

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