RAIL Solution's Response to Norfolk Southern Railway's "I-81 Crescent Corridor" Initiative
It is not new for NS to be interested in movement of intermodal freight between the South and the Northeast. In the 2003 Reebie study conducted by Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, NS favored a 13-state corridor linking three or four terminals in the South with counterpart facilities in the Northeast. Six new trains in each direction were envisaged, with state participation sought in the construction of terminals. Diversion of 30% of the trucks was projected at full implementation at an investment cost of $7 billion.
At that time, however, we were having difficulty interesting NS in the I-81 Corridor at all. We wanted to divert through trucks on I-81 in Virginia to reduce the scope and urgency of planned interstate highway expansion, but we could get little interest or buy-in from the railroad. Now the route map that accompanied the NS presentation specifically shows both a route following I-81 and one through central Virginia. See specifically pp. 23-32 of their June 6, 2007 presentation .
Also new seems to be an increased recognition of the importance of the difference between "conventional intermodal", a term used throughtout the early part of the presentation, referring to the railroad's currently dominant orientation to carrying shipping containers, and an "open intermodal" concept needed to compete in truck markets. The NS briefing specifically identifies a million trucks/year as divertible and one of its stated goals is "access for all motor carriers." This shows that NS is now thinking well beyond the movement of shipping containers. Though a timetable extending to 2013 is given for full implementation, the briefing contains no cost numbers.
The term "I-81 Crescent Corridor" is definitely new. Perhaps based on the success of its Heartland Corridor initiative, NS now feels it's time to roll out the next multi-state corridor plan and begin stumping for support.
The route map will be of interest to the Tennessee folks because it clearly links Memphis and Knoxville, which is what their I-40 Corridor folks want. Memphis to Harrisburg time is given as 30 hrs. That corridor is maybe twice as long as what we've been looking at, so it may be safe to say Knoxville to Harrisburg in 15 hours, which is not too far off the 12 hours we had been shooting for.
The map of rail route improvements indicates substantial work between Knoxville and Roanoke, as well as north of Front Royal, both of which are relevant to our Knoxville - Harrisburg focus. The map of terminals shows both Knoxville and Harrisburg. One key unknown at this point is how the I-81 Crescent Corridor relates to the I-81 Freight Rail Study that is ongoing, jointly funded and conducted by Norfolk Southern and Department of Rail and Public Transportation. But it seems reasonable to conclude at this point that the new, wider NS interest in the I-81 Corridor is at least in part a result of this study and the HB-1581 legislation authored by RAIL Solution that gave rise to it.
The justifications for public investment (p. 30) are revealing and relevant because any public/private joint venture or partnership of any kind is going to encounter issues relating to justifying public investment. Savings have to be verifiable or public participation will be denounced as unwarranted subsidies to the railroads and their shareholders.
NS says they are prepared to develop high quality, truck competitive services in a broad geographic market. It's good to see that they are going public with this and getting excited about the volume of divertible trucks. I think RAIL Solution gets some credit for getting them going on it originally, though!