Traffic growth at Norfolk Southern's Toledo Intermodal Terminal didn't wait for railroad officials and local leaders to formally dedicate a $12.4 million package of efficiency improvements intended to support a doubling of shipments there.
Between 2006 and last year, transfers of trucks trailers and containers between road and rail grew from 25,877 to 42,365, according to company statistics shown during a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Wednesday at the University of Toledo. In addition, business is up 32 percent this year, with the more than 28,000 shipments.
"Helping the area's businesses grow" is the key to the track and signal improvements Norfolk Southern made near the terminal on Hill Avenue in South Toledo between mid-2010 and the end of last year, Jerry Hall, the company's general manager for intermodal in its northern region, told a gathering of several dozen dignitaries.
Without the improvements, he said, running more trains into and out of the Toledo facility would slow down Norfolk Southern's other traffic on its main line through town to an intolerable degree.
Mayor Mike Bell called the project a perfect example of cooperation between the private sector and multiple levels of government. Its budget included a $6.5 million federal stimulus grant obtained by the city of Toledo, a $2.75 million state grant, $425,000 in grade-crossing safety funds, and $2,705,000 in improvements Norfolk Southern paid for.
The mayor noted that the project's timeline spanned two administrations at the city and state levels, and invited former Mayor Carty Finkbeiner onto the stage to participate in the ribbon-cutting.
"This means economic growth, this means economic activity for our region," said U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo). "Industry matters, rail matters, and modern rail really matters."
While the terminal near Fearing Boulevard and Hill Avenue has existed since 1994, it has operated far below its capacity because of the obsolete track layout and signal systems at its western entrance, railroad officials said.
"Right now, we're doing about 170, 180 lifts per day. We have the capacity and support here to double that," B.J. Wargo, NS's division manager for intermodal, said during a tour of the terminal.
A study conducted in 2008 by the Joint Intermodal Task Force, a combination of panels set up by Mr. Finkbeiner and the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, said the facility itself could easily handle 60,000 trailer/container shipments per year, whereas in 2007 it handled 29,967.
Doubling shipments through the intermodal terminal would generate nearly 900 permanent jobs, $25.6 million in payroll, and $2.7 million in annual state and local tax revenue, the task force predicted.
"This is bigger than Hollywood Casino for the future of Toledo," said City Councilman D. Michael Collins, whose district includes part of the rail terminal. "It's going to create major distribution opportunities."
Railroad officials said their business is growing because of transportation's changing economics. Higher fuel prices and a truck-driver shortage are making intermodal rail more attractive to shippers, said Randy Bayles, an NS manager of intermodal marketing.
He cited freight from a Perrysburg company to Joliet, Ill., that is trucked 12 miles to Toledo, rides a train for 241 miles to Chicago, then completes the last 56 miles of its journey back on the highway. Signal improvements extend west to Swanton; the work included connecting a branch out to a grain elevator in Whiteford Township with a portion of a railroad belt line that once looped all the way through West Toledo.
The new branch connection diverts slow-moving grain trains from the intermodal terminal's center and has allowed a half-dozen railroad crossings to be eliminated.
City officials also agreed to close a crossing on Westwood Avenue to support the NS terminal, despite objections from some nearby residents.
Several speakers used the dedication, meanwhile, to offer tribute to James Seney, a former Sylvania mayor who was also a recent executive director of the Ohio Rail Development Commission, and was killed June 2 in a boating accident.
"How thrilled he would have been to be here today to celebrate this accomplishment," said James Tuschman, a port authority director who chaired the task force.
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