Guests at a ceremony here saw something they hadn't seen before when Norfolk Southern Train 236 rolled through at 11 a.m. today.
That's because No. 236 was one of the first double-stacked trains to transit Norfolk Southern's new Heartland Corridor. The eastbound train was pulling the containers on their way from Chicago to Norfolk, Va., and was greeted at Prichard - the site of a planned intermodal terminal - by the corridor's partners, designers, and builders, as well as NS officers and employees.
The Heartland Corridor is one of the most extensive railroad engineering projects in modern times and is an example of effective public-private partnerships that strengthen the nation's transportation infrastructure.
"We have a long, proud history with the Mountaineer State," NS CEO Wick Moorman told the group. "For more than one hundred years, we've been your partner in moving America's most plentiful and dependable energy source from the Pocahontas coal fields. Now, working together, we have improved our corridor through West Virginia so that it has more capacity, speed, and reliability not just for coal trains but for the container trains that carry the products required for international commerce and consumer demand.
"This is good news for the U.S., West Virginia, and rail customers," Moorman said.
The Heartland Corridor is a public-private partnership between NS and West Virginia, Virginia, Ohio, and the federal government to create the shortest, fastest route for double-stacked container trains moving between the Port of Virginia and the Midwest. The new routing improves transit time between Norfolk and Chicago from four days to three and is nearly 250 miles shorter than previous circuitous routings.
To achieve that, NS raised vertical clearances on 28 tunnels and removed 24 overhead obstacles on one of its main lines connecting the Mid-Atlantic to the Midwest. Construction began in Oct. 2007 and involved modifying 5.7 miles of tunnels through roof excavation and liner replacement, arched roof notching, and track lowering and realignment.
U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia, vice chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and a key supporter of the Heartland Corridor project, said, "Now this is the engine to pull jobs America's way. Our economic strength, and West Virginia's future, depend on the vitality of a national transportation system. Rail is an increasingly critical cornerstone of commerce for this country. Government must invest and partner where it makes sense with private industry, so we can compete globally. At the same time, by strengthening our transportation network, we anchor our national security.
"All this begins on the front lines, so we welcome Norfolk Southern's increased commitment to developing an intermodal facility at Prichard. This really is a critical crossroads along the corridor to capture more jobs and business growth for the Heartland. The role the Rahall Transportation Institute at Marshall University played early on in the corridor's planning points to the creative talents and expertise business and government need to continually tap to keep America competitive," Rahall said.
The Heartland Corridor and Norfolk Southern's other public-private partnerships, such as the Crescent Corridor program of improvements to infrastructure and other facilities through 13 states from Louisiana to New Jersey, also offer significant social benefits.
"For cleaner air, less highway congestion, less roadway wear and tear, and most important, for steady economic growth, rail is the transportation choice for the future," said West Virginia State Senator Robert H. Plymale, executive director of the Rahall Transportation Institute. "It speaks volumes for all the partners and for the evolving concept of transportation public-private partnerships that the Heartland Corridor has been completed on-time, safely, and exactly as promised. That's the West Virginia way, and that's the Norfolk Southern way."
Today's program at Prichard was one of three events related to the Heartland opening. An open house Sept. 8 at the Rickenbacker Intermodal Terminal in Columbus, Ohio, highlighted the freight transfer facility that serves as the corridor's western anchor. A ceremony at the Cowan Tunnel near Radford, Va., Sept. 9 marked its official opening.
"Demand for rail freight service in the U.S. is expected to nearly double by 2035, and that's on a national transportation network that already is sorely stressed," Moorman reminded the gathering at Prichard. "As recently as several years ago, the crystal ball was too cloudy to provide a roadmap for meeting the coming challenges. Now, the Heartland Corridor provides a clear and workable vision of the way forward."
Norfolk Southern Corporation (NYSE: NSC) is one of the nation’s premier transportation companies. Its Norfolk Southern Railway subsidiary operates approximately 21,000 route miles in 22 states and the District of Columbia, serves every major container port in the eastern United States, and provides efficient connections to other rail carriers. Norfolk Southern operates the most extensive intermodal network in the East and is a major transporter of coal and industrial products.