CSX Transportation commits to Baltimore tunnel clearance project

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BALTIMORE — The on again, off again Howard Street Tunnel clearance project appears to be back on again after CSX Transportation committed $91 million during a meeting with Maryland officials.

CSX CEO Jim Foote met with the Maryland congressional delegation on Thursday.

“We are pleased that CSX has reversed its position on the Howard Street Tunnel project and is once again supportive and willing to participate,” U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., said in a statement.

CSX had long sought a partnership with the state and federal governments to raise clearances so that double-stack intermodal trains could run through the tunnel and access the Port of Baltimore.

The railroad stunned Maryland officials last year when then-CEO E. Hunter Harrison pulled out of the project.

Harrison later said he was philosophically opposed to accepting public funding because it could lead to government officials wanting a say in how the railroad is run. CSX officials also said the railroad could not justify the original level of investment required to raise clearances in the urban tunnel.

Foote, in a meeting with Maryland officials earlier this year, pledged to reconsider the railroad’s decision.

But the $91 million CSX says it will contribute to the project is $44.5 million less than what the railroad had pledged before Harrison scuttled a deal to split $270 million in costs with the state.

Maryland officials had applied for $155 million in federal funding to cover the balance of the cost of the $425 million project. Gov. Larry Hogan says the state will seek additional federal funding.

State and local officials view the project as vital for the Port of Baltimore, which currently lacks double-stack cleared intermodal service. The port has fallen behind its East Coast rivals in the era of ever-larger container ships.

With the completion of the first Virginia Avenue Tunnel project in Washington, D.C., in 2016, the Howard Street Tunnel remained the last major obstacle to double-stack service on CSX’s Interstate 95 corridor between New Jersey and Jacksonville, Fla.

CSX has been raising clearances between Baltimore and Philadelphia in anticipation of new finished vehicle traffic from the Volvo assembly plant near Charleston, S.C., that began production this year.

Those clearance projects will support domestic double-stack service as well.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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