Economic impact of CSXT’s planned yard expansion in Worcester, Mass.

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A planned $100-million expansion of CSX Transportation's freight rail facilities near Franklin Street in Worcester, Mass., has been heralded by state and local officials as a major boon for economic development, the Worcester Business Journal reports. But just how many jobs the expansion will create, and what the impact on the local neighborhood will be, remains to be seen.

One unabashed supporter
of the project is Worcester City Manager Michael V. O’Brien, who calls the
development "an absolute game-changer for the local economy."

The biggest boost to
local jobs will come during the two-year construction phase – slated to begin
in late 2012. An estimated 376 construction workers will be needed. But once
the yard is established, the permanent jobs will be a more modest 42, according
to CSXT.

The height of bridges is
being raised along the railroad line between Interstate 495 and the New York
line to accommodate double-stack freight trains, freeing up tracks, which will make
room for additional commuter trains. The state will take responsibility for
raising highway bridges, while CSXT will lower the tracks. Work on the
double-stacking will add an estimated 464 construction jobs, according to CSXT.

CSXT’s decision to move
forward with the Worcester expansion has garnered attention in the rail
industry, according to Tom Judge, editor of the Chicago-based trade journal
Railway Track & Structures.

"It’s being talked about
in the industry," Judge said, explaining that his readers – many of them
engineers for large contractors – would likely be enlisted to help build out
the Worcester yard.

Judge also said that CSXT
is not alone in its decision to move forward with a large-scale expansion.
There are several sizeable projects across the country in the planning stages.

"They’re building
capacity projects now so that when traffic does come back they can handle it,"
Judge said.

Indeed, freight has
slowed right along with the overall economy. According to the most recent
statistics from the Association of American Railroads, railroad freight traffic
was up 1.4 percent for the week ending Feb. 6 when compared with the same week
in 2009. But that number is still well below – 14.7 percent – traffic during
that week in 2008.

The real boon, according
to O’Brien, is the possibility of more commuter trains, which will encourage
both employees and businesses to relocate to Worcester, where property and
commercial costs run significantly lower than in Boston and the surrounding
areas.

But not everyone shares O’Brien’s
rosy outlook. Neighborhood groups have raised concerns about potential added
traffic and pollution.

The freight yard project
is just part of a multi-year rail transportation plan between the state and
CSX. Officials hope the plan will expand commuter options with the addition of
20 trains on the Worcester-Boston line by 2012.

In response to
neighborhood concerns, CSXT has offered to alter its original access plan so
that traffic could move directly onto an Interstate 290 exit ramp rather than
travel along Grafton Street, which neighborhood groups had opposed.

O’Brien said CSX
continues to work to make modifications to the project in response to neighbors’
concerns.

"There’s a clear
recognition they want to be good neighbors," he said. "I’m very optimistic we
will continue to bring these issues forward."

Expanding the CSXT
freight yard on the city’s East Side from 28 to 51 acres serves as one aspect
of the statewide project. The expansion also includes moving CSXT freight
operations from Allston to Worcester and modernizing and expanding the
intermodal terminal in Worcester.

CSXT officials have said
the freight yard work would include replacing some older structures at the
site. CSXT also plans to upgrade stormwater management, landscaping and
lighting.

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