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Tennessee seeking funding for rail upgrades

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Tennessee is seeking $81.2 million as part of a coalition of states applying for $300 million in federal stimulus funds to make railroad upgrades linked to development of intermodal rail terminals, where trailers and containers are transferred between trucks and trains, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports. Although the coalition's application for stimulus money is based on reducing truck traffic along Interstate 81, whose southern terminus is in Jefferson County, Tennessee would spend its entire share on an intermodal facility being built near Memphis, some 400 miles from I-81.

Norfolk Southern’s primary
interest in Tennessee is long-haul traffic from Harrisburg, Pa., to Memphis and
farther south to Birmingham, Ala., said Julie Oaks, Tennessee Department of
Transportation spokeswoman. Also, work on the Memphis-area terminal is moving
forward, whereas the railroad company has yet to make a firm decision on an
East Tennessee intermodal site.

"They are substantially
further along in Memphis than in East Tennessee," Oaks said. "They
have already determined a site in Fayette County and have started environmental
and design work.

Norfolk Southern announced
in July that it would build a $129 million intermodal facility in the Memphis
area as part of the railroad’s Crescent Corridor, the name for the New
York-to-New Orleans route. The facility will be built on 570 acres and is to
open by 2012.

NS has been looking at a
400-acre site along Highway 11E in New Market as a possible location for a $60-million
intermodal facility, but even though it has outlined the plans at public
meetings, Jefferson County Mayor Alan Palmieri said the county has received no
firm commitment that the railroad will build the facility.

"I spoke with them
Friday," Palmieri said. "They said, ‘We can’t tell you we are going
to locate in New Market, there are still a lot of things we will have to
consider.’ "

He said the railroad would
not elaborate on those issues, but he does not believe the public opposition
that has risen against the proposal is a significant factor. He noted that the
railroad has eminent domain powers and could take the land if it really wanted
it, although Norfolk Southern officials have said they do not want to use that

Palmieri said he was not
aware of the multi-state effort to secure the intermodal funds.

Led by Pennsylvania, which
made the application, Virginia, Tennessee, New York, Alabama, Mississippi and
Louisiana are seeking funds through the Transportation Investment Generating
Economic Recovery Act to reduce traffic congestion on the 855 miles of I-81
running through those states by developing intermodal facilities to move truck
traffic off the highway and onto rail. Palmieri said he was not surprised that
Tennessee’s Department of Transportation would target the Memphis terminal
because more progress had been made there. Even if Norfolk Southern picked a
site in New Market today, it would be at least three years before a terminal could
be built, he said.

Also, TDOT is looking at
the state as a whole and not just East Tennessee in terms of reducing traffic
on I-81, and the Memphis facility would have a greater impact than the one
proposed in New Market, Oaks said.

"The facility being
discussed in East Tennessee would be a smaller, second-tier center whose value
is that it has access to both I-40 and I-75," she said. "There will
be some cargo that would stop at Knoxville, but a larger proportion would be
making a longer trip."

If the Jefferson County
facility became a reality, it might be possible to seek federal funds to help
with the project, but things are in limbo until Norfolk Southern reaches a
decision, Palmieri said.

"If they could finally
say yes or no, that would allow us to move on in either direction," he

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