By Clifford F. Lynch
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
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
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