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  December 30th, 2016 | Written by

First Train Runs Through D.C.’s Virginia Avenue Tunnel

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  • First CSX double-stack intermodal train cleared newn D.C. Tunnel.
  • Virginia Avenue Tunnel is the last project of the National Gateway Initiative.
  • $850 million initiative creates more efficient pathways for rail freight.

The rail carrier CSX announced the on-time completion of the first phase of the new Virginia Avenue Tunnel project in Washington, D.C., clearing the way for trains to transport double-stacked intermodal freight between Mid-Atlantic seaports and the Midwest on CSX’s railroad network.

The Virginia Avenue Tunnel is the last of 61 clearance projects that comprise the $850 million National Gateway Initiative, an innovative public-private partnership announced in 2008 to create more-efficient pathways for rail freight between key U.S. markets through investment in critical transportation infrastructure.

The first CSX freight train passed through the new southern tunnel of the two-tunnel project carrying double-stacked intermodal freight containers between Portsmouth, Virginia, and North Baltimore, Ohio. Work on the northern tunnel has begun, and the entire project is expected to be completed in mid-2018.

“Clearing the National Gateway for double-stack freight creates more efficient, more environmentally friendly routes to move the essential goods that fuel today’s economy,” said Michael J. Ward, CSX chairman and chief executive officer. “Thanks to the support of our federal and state partners over the past eight years and the commitment of CSX’s shareholders to invest in the company’s future, the double-stack-cleared National Gateway will allow CSX to better meet the needs of consumers and businesses throughout the eastern U.S. for decades to come.”

When both tunnels are complete, the Virginia Avenue Tunnel project will relieve a significant Mid-Atlantic rail bottleneck that impacts freight and passenger service in the region as the growing volume of rail traffic has consumed the capacity of the existing infrastructure.

In addition, truck traffic, carbon emissions and wear-and-tear on the region’s highways will be reduced as shippers take advantage of the more-efficient and environmentally friendly rail service made possible by the project. The project is replacing an existing tunnel, portions of which were first constructed in 1870, that does not provide sufficient vertical clearance for double-stack intermodal containers and is not wide enough to allow a two-track rail configuration.

The National Gateway Initiative is expected to create more than 50,000 jobs and deliver a host of benefits including reduced fuel consumption, lower emissions, improved safety, lower highway maintenance costs and reduced shipping costs. The project is expected to deliver more than $10 billion in public benefits in its first 30 years of operations—a return of $36 in public benefits for every $1 of public money invested.

The National Gateway Initiative has been supported by the District of Columbia, Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia, as well as a diverse group of 336 public and private-sector organizations and individuals, including Big Lots, UPS, and The Limited.

On December 15, Maryland submitted an application for a U.S. Department of Transportation FASTLANE grant to double-stack clear the Howard Street Tunnel and ten highway/rail crossings in Baltimore, which would remove the final impediments to a fully double-stack cleared rail corridor between Florida and New York. The Howard Street Tunnel project, if funded, will generate competitive advantages for the Port of Baltimore, remove additional trucks from the nation’s highways and create more than $640 million in benefits to 25 eastern states. CSX has committed to contribute $145 million of the funding required to complete the project.