Thursday, February 18, 2010

CSX to move Massachusetts operations

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CSX Corp. is set to begin discussions with officials in Worcester, Westboro, East Brookfield and West Springfield, Mass., about plans to shift more freight operations out of Boston to freight yards in those communities, the Worcester Times reports. The changes come as part of a plan to expand commuter rail service on the Boston to Worcester line and to raise bridges between Route 128 and New York to make room for double-stacked freight trains.

Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation Jeffrey B. Mullan said the project will not only give the city access to expanded commuter rail, but will also make Worcester the freight rail hub for all six New England states with east-west and north-south rail connections with access to highways.

"This transaction makes Worcester a very significant New England regional hub for rail because it would become the significant termination point for much of what CSX does and all of the collateral benefits that come with that," Mullan said. "These are large job-producing activities," which should attract many new shipping and receiving jobs from trucking operations that will locate nearby.

He said the state has put out bids for work for 14 rail bridges between Westboro and the New York line that have to be repaired or raised to accommodate double-stacked freight cars and free up more rail time for commuter trains. That work is expected to cost the state about $25 million, while CSX is expected to complete other repairs and bridge elevations over the next two years to accommodate double-stacked freight cars.

Lt. Gov. Timothy P. Murray, who has headed up efforts to expand commuter rail service, said the developments mean another step toward a goal of getting up to 25 daily commuter trains in and out of Worcester over the next few years. The work is being completed according to an agreement reached between CSX and the state last October after years of negotiations.

Murray said the project holds numerous benefits. It will bring more jobs to the region and use of double-stacked freight trains will reduce truck traffic on highways. He said the expanded commuter rail service should help redevelopment plans in downtown Worcester and areas adjacent to downtown while also reducing traffic congestion and polluting emissions. More commuter rail service, he said, will also give workers more options in the job market and lower commuting costs.

State officials said CSX would be moving freight operations from its Beacon Park yards in the Allston section of Boston to existing rail yards in Central and Western Massachusetts. That would mean more freight activity at the company's rail yards along Franklin Street in Worcester, as well as smaller sites the company owns in Westboro, East Brookfield and West Springfield.

Murray said the deal, which also involves state purchase of the property rights to the Boston to Worcester rail line from CSX and state takeover of dispatching and maintenance of that line, is going to be reviewed by the federal Surface Transportation Board. State officials expect to receive approval next month.

State Rep. Vincent A. Pedone, D-Worcester, whose district includes the CSX freight area, said he views it as a positive step toward expanding commuter rail service to the city and said he is interested in meeting with CSX officials about their plans. "The administration has been working very hard to get to this point and I think we should be trying to facilitate some kind of agreement between CSX and the communities along this line," Mr. Pedone said.

He said while there may be noise associated with expanded freight operations in the city, there are already freight operations ongoing at the site. He said he would look for more specifics on noise as well as truck traffic. "We need to increase our commuter rail service. If this is how we are going to accomplish that I think we should be exploring it," Pedone said.

"I'm not looking to shoehorn anything that is not a good fit," Pedone said. "This is the beginning stage of a discussion and we should be working toward a comfortable fit for both the residents of Worcester and CSX. But we should not compromise our neighborhoods' safety and the peaceful neighborhood settings of the East Side," he said.

Mullan said he expects the increased truck traffic will be associated with parts of Grafton Street near Franklin Street as well as through Washington Square as trucks access Interstate 290. He encouraged the city to explore the possible impacts.

"I think the city is right to be focused on them and I think it is something CSX needs to pay attention to," Mullan said.

Officials said it is not yet clear if CSX may expand its operations beyond the current footprint of its freight yard in Worcester.

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