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Thursday, September 17, 2009

CN's $100-million Memphis yard renovation draws to a close

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Canadian National next week will unveil the three-year, $100 million renovation to its Johnston Yard freight car switching facility in South Memphis, The Daily News in Memphis reports. The railroad will commemorate its massive investment of time and money on Sept. 24 at 11 a.m. at the yard, 297 Rivergate Road, off Horn Lake Road.

Montreal-based CN has spent the past three years overhauling the facility, which will help increase efficiency for CN trains moving into and out of Memphis, one of the most important cities within the railroad's North American network.

The Johnston Yard project was designed to "reconfigure the freight car switching facility, creating a more efficient layout that will include a small hump over which freight cars will be directed by gravity into sorting tracks for train makeup," according to a company release.

The revitalized yard also brought new car and locomotive repair shops, and it added 88 acres to the old footprint, enabling CN to "handle existing and future traffic growth in the region, quickly and efficiently," the release said.

CN president and CEO E. Hunter Harrison, who is from Memphis, was unavailable for comment by press time, but in 2006 at the beginning of construction he said: "Our $100-million Johnston Yard project is a solid investment in the Memphis economy and CN's future in the U.S. South. The yard has experienced steadily increasing traffic volumes since CN's acquisition of Illinois Central in 1999 and the recent implementation of CN's routing protocols with the other major railroads in Memphis."

Harrison, set to retire at the end of the year, will speak at the ceremony.

The multimillion-dollar upgrades to Johnston Yard followed a $41-million investment by CN to develop the Intermodal Gateway-Memphis terminal at Frank C. Pidgeon Industrial Park, the 3,000-acre complex near the Mississippi River south of Downtown Memphis that CN operates with CSX Intermodal. It opened in 2005.

And the railroad in October 2008 donated $1 million to launch the CN-E. Hunter Harrison Center for Intermodal Safety and Emergency Preparedness at the University of Memphis' Intermodal Freight Transportation Institute.

CN's commitment to Memphis - one of just three cities in the nation with five Class I railroads - is welcome news to people like Dexter Muller, senior vice president for community development at the Greater Memphis Chamber and head of the Regional Logistics Council.

"When Memphis looks at where some of our future opportunities are, there are two areas that are particularly strong - one is the airport and the other is rail," he said. "On the rail side, the CN really was the one that led the way for investing, and it certainly was the one that led the way for investing in Frank C. Pidgeon Industrial Park, which is a publicly owned park unlike any in the country."

The announcement comes as BNSF places the finishing touches on its $200-million expanded intermodal terminal at Lamar Avenue and Shelby Drive in Southeast Memphis. And Norfolk Southern recently announced it will build a $129-million intermodal terminal in nearby Rossville, beefing up that eastern railroad's presence.

The news is a boon for the logistics industry. Many of CN's trains into the city originate from ports in Prince Rupert, British Columbia, and Halifax, Nova Scotia, as well as other, inland markets, making Memphis a key destination for continental and global cargo headed for the southern U.S.

"It reconfirms that we're an important part of their east-west, north-south network," he said. "And our connection to the Canadian ports should hopefully bring some more logistics business to Memphis."

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