The federal transportation bill passed recently has $90 million earmarked for use in developing the Heartland Corridor, a rail project that will effectively link The Port of Virginia with distribution markets in the Midwest.
“This is an incredible opportunity for The Port of Virginia to expand its reach and for state to expand its trade,” said J. Robert Bray, executive director of the Virginia Port Authority (VPA). “Because of the Norfolk Southern’s rail network, this port has always had good access to the Midwest markets. When this project is completed, it will clear our most direct route to the major markets of Columbus and Chicago for double-stack container trains. I can’t begin to say how pleased we are about this.”
The Heartland Corridor was designed to create a seamless, efficient intermodal rail route that will start at The Port of Virginia, cross West Virginia and culminate in Columbus, Ohio. In Columbus, Heartland Corridor trains will link up with western rail networks and/or the existing Norfolk Southern network that is double-stack cleared to Chicago. The money will be used to link existing rail systems, build new rail line where needed and raise tunnel and bridge heights to allow for passage of Norfolk Southern’s double-stack trains.
Double stacking containers on trains allows for the movement of twice as many containers at the same cost as traditional single stacking, therefore decreasing the cost per container.
Lawmakers from all three states, state and regional economic development bodies, transportation planners, officials from the Virginia Port Authority and leaders at the Norfolk Southern Corp. all worked together to develop the Heartland Corridor project. It is estimated that the project will take five years to complete and cost $266 million.
The Heartland Corridor project will increase the competitive position of The Port of Virginia by cutting the present route to the Midwest by 250 miles.
Currently, double-stack trains traveling west must first go north to Harrisburg, PA, to avoid tunnels that are too low. Eliminating the northbound leg to Harrisburg means cutting a day off the double-stack transit time to Chicago, said Tom Capozzi, the VPA’s senior managing director of marketing.
“We also believe this will improve the economics for railroad pricing in these lanes versus lanes to other ports,” Capozzi said.
Moreover, the Heartland Corridor will expose significant portions of all three states to more international trade. In Virginia, truck-to-rail facilities, called intermodal ramps, will be built in the Roanoke Valley region.
In addition to the $90 million, $15 million was appropriated in the bill for the Western Freeway Rail Corridor. This money will be used to relocate the Commonwealth Rail lines to the median trip of Virginia route 164 and eliminate 14 grade separations in Portsmouth and Chesapeake.
This rail corridor was planned in the 1980s when route 164 was built and the work will. All of the bridges that cross route 164 were built to accommodate a dual set of rail tracks and are high enough for double-stack container trains. The median strip rail corridor is at the eastern end of the
Heartland Corridor and will serve the proposed Craney Island Marine Terminal and the new Maersk marine terminal, which is under construction.
Other appropriations in the federal transportation bill that will be used in development of the Heartland Corridor include $5 million for tunnel clearance work (making room for double-stack trains to pass) and $33 million for building intermodal ramps in Virginia, West Virginia and Ohio.
“The opportunities the Heartland Corridor presents for Virginia are almost endless,” Bray said.
- Heartland Corridor: Clears 28 tunnels and associated obstructions throughout Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky to allow double stack trains. This piece of the project would also build an intermodal facility in Prichard, WV.
- Intermodal Terminal Capacity: Build additional intermodal terminal capacity in