GBC Transportation Summit speakers focus on solving Baltimore’s freight and passenger rail tunnel system

The Howard Street Tunnel as it exists today is the single biggest obstacle in preventing double stack rail service to and from the Port of Baltimore, according to a Maryland Department of Transportation official.

“The reason it’s so important to Baltimore to have double stack assets is it’s really the last piece that the Port of Baltimore needs,” said Bradley M. Smith, Director of the Office Freight and Multimodalism for the Maryland Department of Transportation. “We have everything else – the deep water channel, the berth where the large ships can dock, the cranes are here. We’ve got the container transfer facility. The last piece we don’t have is the double stack access coming in and out of the Seagirt Marine Terminal.”

Smith was among the presenters at the Greater Baltimore Committee’s annual Transportation Summit September 28 at the Marriott Baltimore Waterfront. More than 200 people attended the event, which focused on “Solving Baltimore’s 100-year-old freight and passenger rail tunnel system.”

Rodrigo Bitar, Senior Vice President and Chief Engineer for Amtrak, Daraius Irani, Ph.D., Vice President, Division of Innovation, and Applied Research and Chief Economist, Regional Economic Studies Institute for Towson University, and Louis Renjel, Vice President of Strategic Infrastructure for CSX, also discussed solutions to Baltimore’s more than 100-year-old tunnel system, which includes the B&P Tunnel.

In his opening remarks, Donald C. Fry, President and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, said every day a considerable portion of the nation’s domestic product – goods and services – moves across the country by rail.

“Baltimore is an important part of that freight and rail network on the East Coast and servicing the Midwest,” Fry said. “Yet the infrastructure in Baltimore that serves to move the critical economic commodities is old and obsolete and has not received the improvements needed to keep up with the current age of rail movement.

“Today’s Transportation Summit focuses on these two tunnels located in Baltimore City and the potential solutions that can be advanced to ensure that goods, services and passengers are moved efficiently,” he said.

Daraius Irani, Ph.D., Vice President, Division of Innovation and Applied Research, and Chief Economist, Regional Economic Studies Institute for Towson University, provided an overview of the economic and fiscal impact of Class I Railroads and highlighted the importance of the railroad industry in the United States.

There are approximately 140,000 miles of freight line in the United States, the majority of which are operated by seven major class I railroads, including CSX, Irani said. The U.S. leads the world in freight rail with 1,770 billion ton-miles.

In 2013 gravel was the most transported commodity by weight while machinery was the most transported community by value, Irani said.

“Freight and rail plays an important role in the economy,” Irani said. “They create numerous jobs.”

Rodrigo Bitar, Senior Vice President and Chief Engineer for Amtrak, spoke about replacing the 143-year-old B&P Tunnel with an improved facility capable of high-speed rail and expanded conventional service.

“The purpose of the project is to address the structural and operational deficiencies that exist,” Bitar said. “We have to continuously do extensive maintenance to these tunnels.”

Anticipated project benefits include improved travel time, the ability to accommodate existing and projected travel demand for passenger rail service and operational reliability, Bitar said.

Next steps for the project include a final environmental impact statement, which is expected to be published in October 2016, a record of decision which is expected in Spring 2017 and funding to advance 30 percent to 100 percent of the design and for construction, Bitar said.

Louis Renjel, Vice President of Strategic Infrastructure for CSX, said allowing for double stacked cargo to travel through the Howard Street Tunnel would be transformative for Maryland’s economy. It would position the Port of Baltimore for strong growth, make existing businesses more competitive and help attract new businesses, create 500 jobs for construction and 3,200 statewide over time and take 178,000 trucks off the road.

However, the approximately $425 million project requires partners, Renjel said.

“Like any transformational project it’s going to take the private and public sector pulling together to make this happen,” Renjel said.

Photos from the GBC’s Transportation Summit will be posted shortly.

Presentations:

Watch GBC President and CEO Don Fry’s opening remarks.

View Rodrigo Bitar’s PowerPoint presentation here and watch his remarks.

View Dr. Daraius Irani’s PowerPoint presentation here and watch his remarks.

View Louis Renjel’s PowerPoint presentation here and watch his remarks.

View Bradley Smith’s PowerPoint presentation here and watch his remarks.

Watch the Q&A session.

Press coverage from the Transportation Summit:

Baltimore Business Journal: MDOT hopeful the Howard Street tunnel project will receive federal funding next year

The Daily Record: Howard Street Tunnel upgrades could take 6 years

The Baltimore Sun: CSX and Maryland officials still expect federal funding for Howard Street Tunnel

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