CSX Still Eying North Baltimore Hub Expansion

A wide-span crane shuffles containers at the CSX North Baltimore intermodal hub in June 2011. (Photograph by Craig Sanders)

A wide-span crane shuffles containers at the CSX North Baltimore intermodal hub in June 2011. (Photograph by Craig Sanders)

CSX is still considering expanding its intermodal hub in North Baltimore, Ohio, despite having been turned down earlier this year for a federal grant that would have helped underwrite the expansion.

The news emerged during a visit this week to the facility by Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx.

Rusty Orben, CSX’s director of public affairs, had said last May that without a grant picking up half the cost of the North Baltimore expansion, it wouldn’t be built.  But Carla Groleau, a CSX spokeswoman, said this week that the railroad is “still considering our options” for expanding the North Baltimore facility.

The North Baltimore facility currently handles about 2,000 containers per day and originates, terminates, or swaps blocks on about 30 scheduled trains.

The CSX application for TIGER funding that would have covered half of the expansion project’s $42 million cost did not make the U.S. Department of Transportation’s list of new grants announced in September. CSX began operating full-cube double-stacked trains between North Baltimore and Chambersburg, Pa., this past summer.

The North Baltimore facility, formally known as the Northwest Ohio Intermodal Terminal, is part of the railroad’s National Gateway.

The next major project in developing the National Gateway will be enlarging the Virginia Avenue Tunnel in Washington to allow doublestacks to travel between CSX’s former Baltimore & Ohio and Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac main lines. That project is in planning and environmental review.

The importance of intermodal traffic to CSX was underscored by the company’s Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Fredrik Eliasson in a presentation at the Baird Industrials Conference in Chicago this week.

Eliasson called intermodal, “a key driver of growth” that now represents 40 percent of CSX’s overall volume and is expected to increase further, reflecting “the attractive economic value of converting freight from highway to rail.”

Eliasson said there is sustained growth in CSX’s merchandise and intermodal businesses, which now comprises more than 80 percent of the company’s volume. CSX expects that business to continue growing at a rate above the general economy, he said.

“CSX employs a dual intermodal strategy that includes both high-density corridors and a hub-and-spoke philosophy that also creates service density to open new small and medium-sized markets—a strategy the company believes is a differentiator in the intermodal marketplace,” Eliasson said.

CSX recently completed the first phase of doublestack clearances in its National Gateway initiative, which is an effort to create an efficient rail route between Mid-Atlantic ports and Midwestern markets.

When the National Gateway is complete in 2015, roughly 95 percent of the railroad’s intermodal traffic will be moving in doublestack lanes.

CSX is building new terminals to expand its reach in markets such as central Florida, Pittsburgh, and Montreal.

It continues to invest in existing terminals to further increase efficiency throughout its network, such as an expansion of its Northwest Ohio hub, which opened in 2011 and has helped alleviate congestion in Chicago while opening up connectivity to markets in the Midwest.

During his visit to North Baltimore this past week, Vice President Biden noted the imminent enlargement of the Panama Canal will double the potential capacity of container ships using that waterway.

Biden described the National Gateway as “the inland version of widening the Panama Canal.”

Although CSX used no public funds to develop its $175 million, 500-acre Northwest Ohio Intermodal Terminal, which opened in 2011, $98 million of CSX’s $193 million cost for bridge and tunnel clearance work in eastern Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia to link it with a new terminal at Chambersburg, Pa., came from a federal Transportation Improvements Generating Economic Recovery Act grant.

“Without TIGER, there would be no National Gateway,” Biden said, because without the higher bridges and taller tunnels, CSX would not be able to realize the full benefit of double-stack trains to the North Baltimore terminal.

Biden spoke after briefly touring the North Baltimore terminal, including a visit to its training simulator for crane operators and conversations with Oscar Munoz, CSX’s chief operating officer, and Widby Whitt, president of CSX Intermodal Terminals.

The Northwest Ohio Intermodal Terminal opened in 2011 and CSX says that it employs 300 full-time workers. It is located on 500 acres in Wood County, Ohio, a mile west of North Baltimore.

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