(Updated) NORTH BALTIMORE — Imagine a transportation project that will help reduce America’s reliance on foreign oil, create 100s of jobs and is environmentally friendly.
Now imagine that project – the most advanced in the world — being built in southern Wood County, part of the “Rail Renaissance” going on in America.
About 200 people gathered Friday afternoon for the ground breaking of the Northwest Ohio intermodal terminal outside North Baltimore, part of the National Gateway project. When completed in the first quarter of 2011, the project will connect three Mid-Atlantic ports with the Midwest, effectively coordinating ship, truck and rail modes of transportation. The Northwest Ohio intermodal terminal will be the cornerstone of National Gateway.
Work on the site actually began in May, including grading, preliminary track work and buffering along Ohio 18. At its completion the terminal will span 185 developed acres and have 23 miles of track.
National Gateway is expected to cost $840 million, with $390 million spent by CSX Railroad — $175 million of it invested in the local terminal. Much of the $450 million being spent by federal, state and local municipalities is to upgrade infrastructure to allow for double-stack freight trains to travel. Containers will be taken off ships at the three ports, double stacked on freight trains and hauled west through rail corridors in several states to North Baltimore. Rail clearances have to raised to allow for double-stacked trains.
Once the trains arrive in the North Baltimore hub, an electric crane will transfer some of the double stacks to other trains for further distribution or single stacks to semi-tractors.
During a pre-ground breaking reception, CSX’s CEO Michael Ward announced the construction phase of the project will mean the creation of 400 jobs, while 200 permanent jobs will be offered once the terminal is in operation. Even more exciting, according to Ward, is the expectation of 2,600 jobs which can be created through the infrastructure which will be built around the terminal, such as huge distribution centers.
Ward referred to a “Rail Renaissance” occurring with a projected demand for freight transport doubling in the next 20 years. He noted trains are environmentally friendly because a single freight train can haul the equivalent of goods carried on 280 semi rigs; carry a ton of freight over 400 miles on a single gallon of fuel; and reduce CO2 emissions. Ward said CSX has committed to reducing CO2 emissions by eight percent in 2011, the equivalent of taking 444 cars off the highway.
“This will be the most advanced intermodal terminal in the world,” he stated. “Absolutely state-of-the-art.”
During the reception, a train rumbled along tracks next to the reception tent. “Right on cue, a train coming by. That’s the sound of money,” quipped emcee Tom Blaha, executive director of the Wood County Economic Development Commission.
U.S. Rep Bob Latta, R-Bowling Green, thanked the dignitaries involved in the project for bringing over 200 permanent jobs to the area, especially in such tough economic times. He said he serves on the transportation committee in Congress, and one concern is how to make sure “rail” continues to move forward. He noted 65 percent of America’s fuel comes from foreign countries, so if consumption of fuel can be reduced, such as using trains instead of trucks, “that helps America.”
Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland announced the state is investing $25 million in the project, $20 million through the federal recovery and reinvestment program and $5 million from the Ohio Rail Development Fund. “We look to support CSX’s continued effort to secure federal funds to complete connecting us to the East Coast. It’ll do so many good things for us. It will link the East Coast with international ports with distribution centers of the Midwest.”
Ohio Rep. Randy Gardner said Friday was a great day for schools, including North Baltimore Schools, because jobs are “always about education. It is very difficult for students to do well in school if mom and dad don’t have jobs.”
Front page caption: Michael Ward, left, President and CEO of CSX, shakes hand with Gov. Ted Strickland.