Rail shippers in the Northeast will soon be able to enjoy more efficient movements now that more than $100 million in final funding has been secured to enlarge the 125-year-old Howard Street tunnel under Baltimore.
Although it may take three-to-five years to complete, the $466 million project promises to be a much-needed modernization of rail shipments in and out of the Port of Baltimore and throughout the East Coast. Shippers will benefit from more efficient rail operations that could divert some truck drayage traffic off the highway and onto the rails.
The funding comes from a variety of sources and is being hailed as one of the largest federal, state and public-private rail partnerships. The federal government last summer awarded Maryland a $125 million grant issued by the Transportation Department under its Infrastructure of Rebuilding America Grant Program (INFRA) to increase rail clearances through the tunnel and at 22 bridges between Philadelphia and Baltimore.
The investment agreement ends nearly a decade of on-again, off-again negotiations between the federal and state governments, CSX Transportation, the Port of Baltimore and others.
Maryland had earlier promised $147 million for the project. CSX, which owns the tunnel and the rail lines, has committed at least $91 million to the project. The remaining $103 million is coming from a variety of sources, including the Port of Baltimore and some large shippers using the port.
Ports America Chesapeake, which operates Seagirt Marine Terminal in Baltimore, a new intermodal port facility called Tradepoint Atlantic and other maritime business entities are committed to the funding, according to maritime sources.
Baltimore ranked as the 14th busiest port by volume in LM’s latest rankings. But its 8.3% compound annual growth rate makes Baltimore one of the biggest growing ports in the nation and an attractive gateway to major East Coast cities.
For decades, Port of Baltimore shippers have been denied the efficiency of doublestack railroad use out of the port, which last year moved more than 10 million tons of freight for the third straight year. Last year’s 11 million tons was double what the Port of Baltimore handled in 2005.
That’s because the 1.4-mile tunnel underneath Baltimore is about 19 inches too short for freight trains to haul the familiar doublestack of containers that are used elsewhere throughout the nation. That limits the number of 58,000-pound containers that can be shipped by rail.
James White, who retired on Jan. 1 after 18 years as executive director of the Maryland Port Administration, said securing funding for the tunnel expansion was one of his final goals in office. The doublestacking will allow the port to continue to attract some of the largest cargo ships in the world because of its 50-foot-deep berth to allow the extra-large “Panamax” ships in use since the expansion of the Panama Canal.
The Port of Baltimore says it generates 15,330 direct jobs and 139,180 jobs linked to its overall activities. The Port drives nearly $3.3 billion in wages and salaries, $2.6 billion in business revenues and $395 million in state and local tax revenues for Maryland.
The next step in the expansion of the CSX Howard Street tunnel is an environmental study. But that is expected to be on a fast track, which is also promised to rail shippers moving freight through the Northeast.
The Howard Street Tunnel was built by hand by 2,400 laborers from 1890 to 1895 by the old B&O Railroad. The Baltimore tunnel is so old it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places – and is still in use 24 hours a day.
Get news, papers, media & research, delivered.
Stay up-to-date with news and resources you need to do your job. Research industry trends, compare companies and get market intelligence every week with Supply Chain 24/7.
Subscribe to our email newsletter and we’ll keep you up-to-date.