New railroad coming to town Norfolk Southern: Conrail sale should give Baltimore access to aggressive rail company.

March 12, 1997

NOW THAT THE danger of Baltimore becoming captive of a railroad monopoly seems to have passed, city and state officials can anticipate a scenario in which a second, highly aggressive freight railroad comes to town this summer and gives port businesses a huge boost.

That is the likely outcome of an agreement being worked out between CSX and Norfolk Southern over how to break up the Northeast powerhouse, Conrail. Approval by Conrail's board over the weekend means that the two remaining Eastern railroads will sit down and figure out who gets which piece of Conrail's 11,000 miles of tracks.

At this stage, Baltimore and Maryland look like winners. Norfolk Southern appears set to gain Conrail's tracks into the Port of Baltimore and tracks from Perryville west through central Pennsylvania to the Midwest. This opens up vast potential for new port traffic and lower freight rates as Norfolk Southern goes head-to-head with CSX.

The Richmond-based railroad has big plans for Baltimore and for Hagerstown, too. At the port, Norfolk Southern envisions an intermodal terminal, with through service to the South and Southeast, plus double-stack service to the Midwest and Northeast.

At Hagerstown, where Conrail's tracks now meet Norfolk Southern's, the surviving railroad would build an intermodal hub. It is a key site, linking NS' southern tracks with Conrail's routes into the Northeast and Midwest, as well as a highway hub for Interstates 70 and 81.

Maryland also may have dodged the bullet in Cumberland, which could have suffered a severe job loss had CSX bought Conrail whole and shifted locomotive repair work to Altoona, Pa. Now Norfolk Southern seems likely to take over the Altoona repair shop instead.

Key questions still remain about preserving commuter-rail service in Maryland and the status of rail freight on the Eastern Shore. How much each railroad will contribute to enlarge tunnels and make other improvements needed for double-stack trains is also up in the air.

But the likely arrival of a hungry, highly competitive railroad in Baltimore could be a turning point for the port. Norfolk Southern is eager to show it can drum up freight traffic for the port and take business away from CSX and truckers. This would make Baltimore more attractive to shippers as transportation prices drop. Having a strong second railroad in town could give the port a new head of steam.

Pub Date: 3/12/97

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