Panama Canal upgrade could increase container traffic in WV - Business, Government Legal News from throughout WV

Panama Canal upgrade could increase container traffic in WV

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Shipping freight by container is a larger part of the rail freight traffic than it has been in the past, and it could get a big boost in the eastern United States in 2015 when expansion of the Panama Canal is finished.

Work is underway to add new, larger locks to the canal to allow more and larger ships to transit. Cargo that had previously been unloaded on the West Coast will have access to deepwater ports at Miami, Norfolk and Baltimore, along with other ports that will have the water depth and equipment to handle the largest cargo ships.

Meanwhile, the two major railroads on the East Coast — CSX and Norfolk Southern — have partnered with various government agencies to develop corridors to allow trains carrying containers stacked two high — hence the term double-stack — to travel from deepwater ports to inland cities. Work has involved raising the roofs of tunnels and increasing clearances on bridges and overpasses, among other things.

Three such corridors run through West Virginia: Norfolk Southern's Crescent Corridor and CSX's National Gateway in the Eastern Panhandle and Norfolk Southern's Heartland Corridor through southern West Virginia. Only the Heartland Corridor will have a rail-truck container transfer facility in West Virginia. It will be near the community of Prichard in Wayne County.

Through the first 21 weeks of this year, the number of containers moved by CSX was up 3.1 percent from last year, while carloads of coal were down 8.8 percent and carloads of grain were down 13.7 percent.

Container shipping by rail is also seen as a way of relieving congestion on the nation's highway system.

As railroads develop their container-moving infrastructure, research goes on whether river commerce, which mainly carries bulk materials such as coal and grain, will be able to capture some of the container business.

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