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Norfolk Southern Should Be Embraced, Not Rebuffed

By Clifford F. Lynch

Memphis Daily News, March 18, 2009

For years Memphis has boasted of its rail service. And indeed it should. The city is one of only three in the United States served by five major railroads.

But simply being served by a railroad is not enough. To be a true logistics hub, we must have major rail facilities, not just tracks passing through. The growth in intermodal business, fueled by the global economy and the high cost of trucking, has made it absolutely critical that a complete logistics center have extensive intermodal facilities for the loading, unloading and distribution of container shipments.

To be sure, the Memphis area has some outstanding intermodal facilities. The Union Pacific yard in Marion, Ark., is state of the art and handles thousands of containers originating on the West Coast and destined for our area and beyond. Delivery of containers to Memphis customers is convenient and relatively inexpensive.

The Canadian National intermodal facility at Frank C. Pidgeon Industrial Park, while smaller, provides us with efficient North-South service. Through the opening of the new Prince Rupert port in British Columbia, serviced directly by the CN, we also have additional access to containers arriving from Asia.

The Burlington Northern/Santa Fe currently has under construction an expanded, modern yard in Memphis. When completed, it will be by far the larges and most efficient in the area. Serving the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach as well as other important origins, the BNSF is a critical link in the supply chain between Asia, western cities and Memphis.

What we do not have, however, is a modern facility capable of handling efficiently the containers moving from eastern ports and origins via the Norfolk Southern Railroad. And this is a serious deficiency. As container ships have gotten larger, many of the new vessels will not fit through the Panama Canal and are forced to sail through the Suez Canal to east coast ports such as Savannah, Ga., New York or Norfolk, Va.

Even for smaller vessels that will fit through the canal, East Coast ports have become more popular since they are less congested. From the East Coast, much of the traffic moves to Memphis via the Norfolk Southern.

Currently the NS operates out of a 50-acre facility on Southern Avenue. While the line wants to expand its service to our area, the local operations are constrained by congestion and lack of space to expand.

Make no mistake: This is not just a "nice-to-have" rail yard. For Memphis to be a true logistics hub, we need an expanded NS facility, and the railroad has chosen Fayette County for its new, 500-acre yard. Not surprisingly, there has been a wave of protest from various groups, and even those who support the yard conceptually have adopted the "not in my backyard" position.

Well, it has to be in someone’s backyard, and this site seems to be the least objectionable. The Norfolk Southern is one of the most responsible railroads in the United States and no doubt will do everything it can to make the site neighbor-friendly. The major risk for Memphis is that we make it so difficult for the railroad to build the facility that they decide to select another area. This would leave a major gap in our transportation capabilities.

As painful as it might be to some of the objectors, we need it in our logistics backyard.

 

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