Thursday, June 07, 2007

Norfolk Southern to improve area track

Virginia has committed $40 million toward the railroad's corridor plan.

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NORFOLK -- Track improvements in Southwest Virginia are a major component of a $2 billion-plus rail corridor announced Wednesday by Norfolk Southern Corp., stretching from Louisiana to New Jersey, that the freight railroad said would speed cargo shipments and reduce highway congestion by diverting truck traffic.

The Crescent Corridor project involves expanding and improving Norfolk Southern's rail network from the Northeast to the Southeast.

Virginia has committed $40 million in seed money for the Crescent Corridor project, which would run along Interstate 81, said Mike McClellan, Norfolk Southern's vice president of intermodal and automotive marketing. The Norfolk-based railroad is seeking additional public money.

"We're not talking about new track here. We're talking about upgrading existing track to add capacity," NS spokesman Robin Chapman said. The line that runs from Bristol to Roanoke is among those that the company is looking at, he said.

Other major focus points for upgrade work will be Memphis, Tenn., to Bristol and Manassas, Va., through northern New Jersey, Chapman said. Lesser-scale improvements will happen elsewhere, resulting in what the railroad sees as a significant chance to lessen highway congestion.

"We believe there are 1 million divertible truckloads in this corridor a year," Chapman said.

Public bodies should want to invest because the project will have public benefits, such as reducing highway congestion and vehicle emissions and creating economic development opportunities, McClellan said.

"We're talking about developing an entire corridor to help relieve pressure on the interstate system," he said.

The railroad also is prepared to "invest a lot in this corridor ... up to an amount that provides us an acceptable return on our investment," McClellan said. He declined to give a dollar figure.

McClellan announced the corridor during a presentation to analysts during a conference in New York.

The corridor would include about 1,400 rail miles from New Orleans to Newark, N.J., plus investments on parallel routes, McClellan said.

If financing works out, construction would begin in 2008. The first phase would be completed by 2009, with the entire project being finished by 2013.

Staff writer Jeff Sturgeon contributed to this report.

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