When residents near Montevideo Road protested that their neighborhood wasn't appropriate for the train-truck depot that CSX was proposing, one CSX representative told them: "Nobody says they want this facility in their backyard."
On Thursday, that changed.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake asked the CEO of the major rail company to put its "intermodal facility," or train-truck railyard, in Baltimore.
In a letter to CSX's CEO Michael Ward, she wrote: "I’m deeply troubled by the slow pace of this project and the ongoing resistance to the idea of strengthening our critical port infrastructure" through the facility, which she said is "critical to keeping this economic engine humming."
The $150 million intermodal facility is on track to open by 2015, when the Panama Canal expansion is complete.
The project is moving along on a timeline that CSX and the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) outlined, and officials are evaluating four sites for the facility, which they say is essential for keeping the Port of Baltimore competitive as the canal widens.
With the increase in ship cargo, the rail line plans to increase its capacity by double-stacking cargo containers on trains; however, double-stacked containers cannot clear the Howard Street tunnel, which The Daily Record reports would cost $1 to $3 billion to replace.
As a result, CSX and MDOT have been considering four sites for the facility south of the tunnel—in Prince George's, Howard and Anne Arundel counties.
Although residents from Beltsville, Jessup and Elkridge/Hanover have made it clear through various campaigns that they do not want the facility near them, MDOT and CSX have been in the midst of a federally mandated study of the four sites that meet criteria transportation officials established for the facility. Transportation officials were initially evaluating 12 sites, which did not include any in Baltimore City.
In response to the mayor's letter, CSX issued the following statement to Elkridge Patch:
"We appreciate Mayor Rawlings-Blake’s strong interest and continued recognition of the importance of an intermodal terminal to the Port and the City of Baltimore, and her desire to strengthen the local economy, create jobs, and grow the city. CSX and MDOT continue to carefully evaluate all options to develop an intermodal facility that will quickly address the state’s growing freight transportation needs and the Port of Baltimore expansion."
Councilwoman Courtney Watson, who represents Elkridge and Hanover and pledged to help fight the intermodal being sited near Hanover and Race roads, one of the four locations under consideration, said she was hopeful about the mayor's letter to CSX.
"It's too early to know whether CSX will move forward in Baltimore City, but I believe this news today is a step in the right direction," wrote Watson in an email to constituents.
"It is important to note that Sen. [Ed] Kasemeyer, Del. [James] Malone, Del. [Steven] DeBoy, and Del. [Liz] Bobo worked to put language in the state budget to require CSX to review other sites and they have worked diligently to convince CSX that the Elkridge site was not ideal," wrote Watson.
The Howard County Delegation put a contingency in the state's budget that MDOT will not receive $500,000 of its administrative budget request until it submits a "comprehensive review performed by an independent consultant that details potential alternative sites in the Baltimore metropolitan area for the siting of an intermodal freight facility."
MDOT said that it is continuing its course for evaluating sites in three counties while considering other options.
"The study process of the four potential sites originally proposed is continuing. This process takes time. The schedule still calls for the study of the four potential sites to be completed late this year," said Jack Cahalan, spokesman for MDOT.
"Mayor Rawlings-Blake understands the importance of moving this project forward and shares the urgency we all feel as the economics of the shipping and freight industry will change with the widening of the Panama Canal scheduled to open in 2014. Clearly, she gets it," said Cahalan. "MDOT has an open mind and is willing to listen to any strategies for bringing double-stack rail access to Maryland."
This article was updated on April 30 to include comment from MDOT.