An $850 million investment to improve railroad infrastructure across Ohio and allow more freight from ports in the eastern part of the country to pass through the Midwest is nearing its completion date of spring 2013.
CSX Corp., which operates more than 4,000 miles of track in the Buckeye State, first launched the National Gateway initiative in partnership with the federal government, which committed to match millions in private funding in 2008.
Since then, CSX has worked to expand rail capacity across six states to improve the flow of freight on much of its system by allowing double-stack freight cars to travel on it.
In the Mahoning Valley, a new $1.4 million composite steel bridge was constructed in Niles, and an abandoned railroad bridge between the Mahoning River and Mahoning Avenue was removed as part of the project.
“The Fifth Street Bridge is a perfect example of local economic growth driven by private and public investment in our nation’s infrastructure,” said Niles Mayor Ralph Infante Jr. at the time the bridge was dedicated in July. “This new, modern bridge is a welcome addition to our community and an exciting symbol of the future of the American freight transportation investments needed to keep communities such as ours positioned to compete domestically and internationally.”
A growing population, expected to exceed 70 million people in the next 25 years, will place undue stress on the transportation networks of metropolitan regions. This has led both private industry and the federal government to focus more on upgrading the nation’s ailing infrastructure.
“Getting those tunnels and overpasses up to height or removed all together has been critical to this project,” said John Spychalski, professor emeritus of supply-chain management at Pennsylvania State University and a faculty affiliate at the Pennsylvania Transportation Institute.
Trains can move 1 ton of freight nearly 500 miles on a single gallon of fuel, and one train can carry the load of 280 trucks, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Improving the rail networks with projects such as the National Gateway will reduce traffic congestion in metropolitan regions and allow more goods to reach a growing population faster and at reduced costs, Spychalski said.
The double-stack freight cars will use a series of intermodal terminals in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina.
Intermodal terminals are large distribution centers designed to ease the transfer of goods from train to truck. Spychalski said that regardless of where those terminals are located — in North Baltimore and Columbus in Ohio’s case — it will allow businesses across the state more logistical options in moving their goods.
Both CSX and its competitor Norfolk Southern have invested heavily in Ohio, while ports along the East Coast are investing more in improvements as they anticipate an influx of goods from Asia with the expansion of the Panama Canal.
“This comes with the demand for quality service and the frequency of service at these terminals,” Spychalski said. “These investments are positioning these companies to be more competitive in intermodal railroad. They have to accommodate growth already under way, and it takes years to get these sorts of things in place.”
Similar improvements are being made across Canada and in southern parts of the country. Ports in California already handle more than 40 percent of the nation’s imported goods, and with the Panama expansion, Spychalski said improved railroads could help the East Coast capture more of those products and provide places further west such as Youngstown, Chicago and even St. Louis with more options for moving product.
“All these projects complement one another, and the more product you can move, the stronger the economy will be,” Spychalski said.