By JIM HOOK
The Norfolk Southern rail-truck terminal south of Greencastle is gearing up for the busy season.
Open since January, the $97 million Franklin County Regional Intermodal Facility is lifting about 50 to 100 containers a day, according to terminal manager Mark Canfield.
Business will more than triple when the terminal is operating at full capacity – 85,000 lifts a year.
“This is the slowest time of the year,” said Norfolk Southern spokesman Rudy Husband. “Business is going to come. It’s not here yet.”
“It’s so unpredictable this time of year,” Canfield said.
“It’s like any new business. It’s starting out,” said Franklin County Commissioner Robert Thomas.
Thomas and about 40 members of the I-81 Corridor Coalition on Tuesday took a short bus tour of the terminal. Coalition members met in Hagerstown, Md., to discuss safety, efficiency and sustainability on I-81 through six states.
They explored the possibility of moving people and more freight by rail instead of over the over-worked highway.
Norfolk Southern employees stacked 16,000-pound containers on rail cars. A hydraulic diesel lift grasped a container and with just inches to spare lowered it onto securing pins. Canfield said the lift operator has been working at the terminal since it opened and learned his trade through on-the-job training.
The CSX intermodal yard that opened in 2007 near Chambersburg has only a slightly larger capacity than Norfolk Southern’s Greencastle terminal – 90,000 lifts per year.
“We’re certainly competing for business,” Husband said. “A lot of freight wants to move here. By getting the facility closer to the market, it’s going to create a lot of opportunities.”
The terminal near Greencastle allows short-haul trucks to deliver 300 to 400 miles into central Pennsylvania, western Maryland and northern Virginia, according to Husband.
Besides 126 jobs on site, the Greencastle terminal is expected to create 5,500 direct and indirect jobs in the region, in sectors such as warehousing and trucking, according to Drew Marrs, Norfolk Southern assistant manager government relations.
Two warehouses are under construction outside the Greencastle terminal. Warehousing has sprung up around intermodal terminals that Norfolk Southern opened in July in Memphis and in October in Birmingham, Husband said.
The project is part of Norfolk Southern’s Crescent Corridor, which promises to remove 650,000 to 1.7 million long-haul trucks from interstate highways. The $2.5 billion project would ease congestion on I-81 and move freight with greater fuel efficiency and less pollution. Norfolk Southern system has improved its train speeds by 6 percent, according to Marrs.
“We are going to take a few minutes longer than a truck,” Marrs said. Fuel prices also influence whether shippers go by truck or rail.
A typical intermodal train removes 280 long-haul trucks from the highway.
The Crescent Corridor is a small part of what rail could do for congestion on I-81, according to presenters at the annual meeting of the I-81 Coalition on Monday and Tuesday:
A rail corridor paralleling I-81 could divert initially 15 percent of long-haul truck traffic from the highway and eventually up to 53 percent, according to Michael Testerman of the Virginia Rail Policy Institute. Such a project would require billions of dollars and partnerships between the industry and government, partnerships which do not yet exist. Passenger rail shows promise, according to Meredith Richards, former president of Virginians for High Speed Rail. Passenger rail service from Lynchburg, Va., to Washington, D.C., grew by 50 percent in its first three years. It’s one of the few profitable Amtrak routes in the country. States need to look at how people are using the corridor and invest in short, intercity routes. Again, major investment is required because passenger rail service would disrupt exiting freight routes.
The nation must revise its transportation policy, according to Testerman. Highway users enjoy the hidden subsidies that railroads do not.
Meanwhile, more trucks could be on the way to I-81. A wider Panama Canal is to double its capacity by 2015. Ships laden with consumer goods from Asia are likely to sail to Savannah, Ga., or Norfolk, Va., instead of unloading in West Coast ports. The extra sea leg eliminates a cross-country journey by rail.
The capacity of an intermodal yard is determined by the amount of parking. The Greencastle terminal has 670 parking spaces for containers and 200 acres for expansion.
Intermodal transport in the U.S. has grown exponentially, up 87 percent since 1995, compared to so-so growth in shipments of general merchandise by rail, according to Marrs.
Generally, an intermodal container holds consumer goods, such as televisions or clothing.
“Unless it’s hazardous material, we don’t know what’s in it,” Husband said.
The Greencastle terminal is likely to conduct an open house in June, he said.
Jim Hook can be reached at 262-4759 and email@example.com