CSX begins scaling back operations at key Ohio intermodal terminal

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CSX Transportation's North Baltimore Yard, near North Baltimore, Ohio.
Brian Schmidt
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — CSX Transportation is preparing to scale back operations at its intermodal hub in North Baltimore, Ohio, which opened in 2011 as the $175-million centerpiece of a new intermodal strategy.

The Northwest Ohio Intermodal Terminal was designed to support CSX’s hub-and-spoke approach to serving smaller intermodal markets. By sorting container shipments at North Baltimore, CSX could build the density required to provide new or more frequent service to places such as Louisville, Ky.

But the terminal’s sorting hub days are numbered as part of CSX’s shift to precision scheduled railroading under CEO E. Hunter Harrison, according to sources familiar with the situation.

“CSX does not have any plans to discontinue operations at the North Baltimore facility,” spokesman Rob Doolittle says. “We are reviewing our train plan at the North Baltimore terminal to identify opportunities to provide better service to our intermodal customers, and CSX will communicate any changes that may be made directly to affected customers, employees, and other stakeholders.”

Over the past two weeks CSX has told customers that it is curtailing intermodal service to Louisville and Detroit. International and domestic intermodal traffic to and from both cities is funneled through North Baltimore.

The changes are the first steps in diverting traffic away from the Northwest Ohio Intermodal Terminal, sources say.

CSX will no longer handle domestic container shipments from Detroit to two dozen destinations, ranging from points in California, Texas, and Mexico to Florida, Syracuse, N.Y., and Montreal, Quebec. Similar changes have been made in Louisville.

The North Baltimore terminal, strategically positioned on CSX’s mainline to Chicago and between its former Baltimore & Ohio Toledo-Cincinnati and Chesapeake & Ohio Toledo-Columbus routes, may survive as a block-swapping yard.

Before Harrison’s arrival at CSX in March, 30 or so trains per day stopped at North Baltimore to swap blocks or have their containers lifted, sorted, and placed on different outbound trains.

The terminal employs nearly 300 people and has been hailed as a model of advanced technology and green design. It features ultra-efficient electric cranes, optical scanners that reduce truck idle times, and automated car tracking technologies. In 2013, Vice President Joe Biden and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx toured the terminal and touted it as an example of the economic benefits of infrastructure investments.

Now it is unclear whether the changing role of the terminal will spell the end of CSX’s hub-and-spoke strategy, which was unique for a double-stack intermodal operation.

As recently as July, CSX executives said North Baltimore was a proven concept that would be extended to a new $270 million Carolina Connector intermodal terminal planned for Rocky Mount, N.C. Executives also had discussed the potential for adding a third intermodal sorting hub near Atlanta.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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