RADFORD, Va. — Norfolk Southern’s Heartland Corridor — one of the most extensive railroad engineering projects in modern times and a template for public-private partnerships that strengthen the nation’s transportation infrastructure — officially opened for business.
A Sept. 9 ceremony at the railroad’s recently enlarged Cowan Tunnel near Radford marked the occasion, as Norfolk Southern Train 233 pulled through at 11 a.m. with a consist of 200 double-stack containers moving to the Midwest. Train 233 paused near the 3,302-foot tunnel’s western portal, where it was greeted by the corridor’s partners, designers, and builders, as well as news media and NS officers and employees.
“This is a remarkable achievement, and it marks a notable date in transportation history,” NS CEO Wick Moorman told the group. “Together we have shown what can be accomplished when the right partners work together for the right goals. The Heartland Corridor’s completion is not an end but rather the start of an era of new thinking, new resolve, and new optimism in which business, communities, and the public sector find creative ways to power the American economy.”
The Heartland Corridor is a public-private partnership between NS and Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, and the federal government to create the shortest, fastest route for double-stack container trains moving between the Port of Virginia and the Midwest. The new routing improves transit time from Norfolk, Va., to Chicago from four days to three and is nearly 250 miles shorter than previous circuitous routings.
To achieve that, NS raised vertical clearances on 28 tunnels and removed 24 overhead obstacles on one of its main lines connecting the Mid-Atlantic to the Midwest. Construction began in Oct. 2007 and involved modifying 5.7 miles of tunnels through roof excavation and liner replacement, arched roof notching, and track lowering and realignment.
The line dates back to the late 19th Century and traditionally has carried mostly coal traffic.
The Heartland Corridor improvements provide more capacity, speed, and reliability not just for coal trains but for the 20-foot, three-inch-high container trains that carry a diverse range of products required for international commerce and consumer demand.
On behalf of Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, Secretary of Transportation Sean T. Connaughton said, “The Heartland Corridor will significantly advance Virginia’s economy and transportation network. This project will improve the economic competitiveness of the Port of Virginia and spur economic development in Southside and Southwest Virginia through new intermodal facilities. The strong partnership between Norfolk Southern and the Commonwealth continues to move Virginia into the future.”
The Heartland Corridor and Norfolk Southern’s other public-private partnerships, such as the Crescent Corridor program of improvements to infrastructure and other facilities through 13 states from Louisiana to New Jersey, also offer a number of social benefits.
“The U.S. Department of Transportation is proud to be a partner, along with Ohio, West Virginia, and Virginia, in making this historic project a reality. The Heartland Corridor will reduce highway congestion and fuel consumption, while improving air quality and transportation safety. For too long, rail has been the forgotten mode, but today’s celebration shows it is more indispensable than ever as an integral part of our national transportation system. On behalf of President Obama and Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, we congratulate Norfolk Southern on its completion and inauguration,” said Joseph C. Szabo, federal railroad administrator.
Today’s program at Cowan Tunnel was one of three events related to the Heartland opening. An open house on Sept. 8 at the Rickenbacker Intermodal Terminal in Columbus, Ohio, highlighted the freight transfer facility that serves as the corridor’s western anchor. A gathering on Sept. 13 in Prichard, W.Va., will feature one of the first eastbound intermodal trains on the route.
“Demand for rail freight service in the U.S. is expected to nearly double by 2035, and that’s on a national transportation network that everyone agrees already is sorely stressed,” Moorman reminded the Cowan Tunnel group. “As recently as several years ago, the crystal ball was too cloudy to provide a roadmap for meeting the coming challenges. Now, the Heartland Corridor provides a clear and workable vision of the way forward.”