CSX boosts service plan for northwest Ohio intermodal terminal

10/27/2018
BY DAVID PATCH/THE BLADE
  • CSX-North-Baltimore-terminal

    As seen from a drone, a crane at the CSX Northwest Ohio Intermodal Terminal near North Baltimore, Ohio places a container onto a truck chassis on October 24, 2018.

    THE BLADE DRONE/DAVID PATCH
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  • NORTH BALTIMORE, Ohio — When CSX Transportation opened its huge intermodal terminal here nearly eight years ago, it promoted a vision of unloading containers from inbound trains from various cities and sorting them onto new trains for outbound destinations.

    The idea was to build volume for origins and destinations that didn’t generate enough traffic to warrant dedicated trains in specific service lanes.

    Transfers between trains and trucks were provided for, but at least at the beginning were expected to account for just a small fraction of the facility’s activity.

    That’s all changing now, with CSX having phased out the hub model starting about a year ago with the elimination of lower-volume routes and a substantial/​complete reduction in the numbers of freight containers brought into the terminal for sorting.

    Instead, the intermodal site is going to sink or swim based on the volume of freight transferred there between trucks and trains.

    Early this month, CSX announced a partnership with NorthPoint Development to construct a logistics park on more than 500 acres neighboring the rail terminal; a new “haulage” agreement with BNSF Railway to handle containerized freight directly between Southern California and North Baltimore, and new CSX service between the northwest Ohio terminal and the Port of New York and New Jersey.

    The BNSF route is scheduled to begin its five-days-per-week operation on Monday.

    “The agreement with BNSF builds on a strong partnership to launch a premium intermodal service product between Los Angeles and CSX’s Northwest Ohio terminal,” the company said in a prepared statement.

    In addition to warehouse space, CSX said, the NorthPoint complex will offer a container yard and equipment storage and logistics-related services.

    “This suite of new services and support are enabled by the improved train plan and simplified switching operation at the Northwest Ohio terminal, which will contribute to long-term, profitable intermodal growth,” the company said.

    CSX already operates direct trains between North Baltimore and several other East Coast ports and rail terminals.

    BNSF Railway, which operates the highest-volume intermodal corridor between southern California and Chicago, will market the North Baltimore facility as if it were on its own route map.

    “Our new Ohio intermodal service will create an efficient, direct service to the West Coast into the Ohio Valley region,” Tom Williams, BNSF’s vice president of its Consumer Products group, said in an Oct. 2 statement announcing its plans.

    “It’s another way BNSF is working to streamline the existing supply chain and makes moving products easier,” Mr. Williams said.

    Wade Gottschalk, executive director of the Wood County Economic Development Commission, said the terminal’s new direction is in its “really early stages,” and the jobs impact will depend on what NorthPoint brings in.

    But overall, Mr. Gottschalk said, “That announcement’s pretty positive for the region.”

    Katie Chimelewski, the director of CSX’s media relations, said similarly that the railroad does not anticipate adding employees — either its own or those working for contractors — at the North Baltimore rail terminal.

    “Future job creation will likely be the result of the planned industrial park adjacent to the terminal,” Ms. Chimelewski said.

    Los Angeles and neighboring Long Beach, Calif., consistently rank atop lists of North America’s busiest container ports, along with New York/​New Jersey.

    BNSF operates the fastest and shortest rail route between southern California and Chicago.

    BNSF’s statement compared its North Baltimore service to a lane it previously established between southern California and Atlanta, also using a “haulage agreement” with CSX east of BNSF’s own rail lines.

    Under haulage agreements, railroads move shipments on behalf of other carriers but are not involved in the marketing of, or customer billing for, those shipments.

    “The offering provides another option for BNSF customers to move their shipments between Los Angeles and the Midwest without transferring to another mode at an interchange point,” said Jessa Lewis, a BNSF spokesman.

    BNSF also serves major container ports elsewhere along the Pacific Coast, including Oakland, Portland, Ore., and Seattle.

    But neither CSX nor BNSF would discuss Friday the possibility of establishing other lanes to or from North Baltimore.

    “We focus on market opportunities as they arise,” Ms. Lewis said. “Our volumes across intermodal service lanes continue to rise to meet customer demand, including routes connecting us to the eastern part of the United States.”