CSX to share cost of raising rail tunnels Railroad's share of $40 million project to be determined

Could be settled in 6 weeks

Work will enable trains to carry double-stacked loads

Shipping

September 27, 1996|By Suzanne Wooton | Suzanne Wooton,SUN STAFF

Reversing an earlier stance, CSX Corp. yesterday said it will share in the cost of raising railroad tunnels so trains moving to and from the port of Baltimore can accommodate large containers stacked two-high.

Unresolved, however, is just how much of the estimated $40 million price tag the state's largest railroad will pick up.

"I would anticipate that we would help with the funding," John W. Snow, chairman of the Richmond, Va.-based transportation giant, said yesterday in Washington. "What would be a fair share for us to pay? That's what we're looking at right now."

For years, CSX has been unwilling to help finance the necessary tunnel improvements, saying it was not cost-effective. But Snow, who has met several times lately with Gov. Parris N. Glendening and state transportation officials, yesterday predicted the issue could be resolved soon. "I think we'll resolve this in another month or six weeks," he said.

That would give the Glendening administration time to include the state's share of raising the tunnels in its 1997-98 budget.

In recent years, steamship lines have been forming alliances and shifting to the larger boxes for international and domestic shipments. Faced with constant competition from other East Coast ports, state officials want the ability to stack 9-foot, 6-inch high containers, instead of smaller ones, two-high on trains.

To take the larger, double-stacked trains to and from the port, however, tunnels in Baltimore along Howard Street and Virginia Avenue, and in Harpers Ferry, W.Va., would have to be raised. Double stacking is only one issue that threatens to put the port of Baltimore at a disadvantage in its fierce competition for cargo with Philadelphia and Norfolk, Va., the headquarter cities for Conrail and Norfolk Southern railroads, respectively.

Snow yesterday strongly acknowledged double stacking's importance to the port. "You can't be a major port in the 20th century without double stack," he said.

The port of Hampton Roads has long been able to double stack large containers on Norfolk-Southern trains. And a year ago, the port of Philadelphia began double stacking larger containers for the first time after Conrail paid more than $64 million of the total $97 million cost for reconstructing clearances. While Snow said CSX will share in the cost, it was clear that the transportation giant is not willing to contribute nearly as big a share as Conrail did in Pennsylvania. "We don't think we can justify the whole expenditure or anything like the whole expenditure," he said. "It makes the port competitive and there are social benefits and economic benefits, but they go well beyond anything our shareholders get." State officials also have conducted talks with Conrail about sharing some of the estimated $10 million costs associated largely with reconstructing the Susquehanna River bridge.

Pub Date: 9/27/96

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