Rail Yard Opens In Rossville

By Bill Dries

Those in the logistics industry have known since the end of June, but Norfolk Southern Corp.’s Memphis Regional Intermodal Facility at Rossville had its soft opening earlier this month.

Norfolk Southern Corp.’s new intermodal facility in Rossville, which became partially operational on July 1, is a key anchor for the railroad’s 2,500-mile Crescent Corridor.

(Photo Courtesy of Norfolk Southern)

The terminal, an anchor in the Norfolk, Va.-based company’s ambitious Crescent Corridor project, became partially operational on July 1. That’s when Norfolk Southern shifted its domestic and premium intermodal service between Memphis and the Northeast from the Memphis terminal at Forrest Yard to Rossville.

With future expansion, the Rossville terminal will cover more than 400 acres, with six loading tracks and 2,200 parking spaces.

Norfolk Southern CEO Wick Moorman said the Rossville terminal is part of “a significant competitive advantage for us and sets the stage for even more growth in our intermodal network.”

Moorman and other Norfolk Southern executives spoke for the first time Tuesday, July 24, about the opening during a second-quarter earnings call with analysts.

Rossville is the first of four anchors Norfolk Southern is building to move freight between the Gulf Coast and Atlantic ports in New Jersey and New York.

The $112 million facility in Rossville is part of a $2.5 billion undertaking by the railroad that covers 2,500 miles of territory where a large amount of freight has not historically moved by rail. The federal government put up $52.5 million in infrastructure incentives for the Rossville project.

At the May 2011 groundbreaking for the facility, Moorman said the region is the last area of its kind in the country in that regard. The territory is even more valuable with the coming expansion of the Panama Canal that will benefit Gulf Coast ports, notably Houston, with more cargo.

The intermodal facilities are expected to “accelerate highway convergence,” according to Norfolk Southern marketing chief Don Seal, which means fewer trucks on the route along major parts of the journey.

But Martin E. Lipinski, director of the Intermodal Freight Transportation Institute at the University of Memphis, said there will be more truck traffic at the terminal bringing containers to and from the facility, and in the case of Norfolk Southern, that route will probably be to the south.

“I know that it is going to generate a lot more traffic and it’s also going to generate a lot of economic development – maybe not for Memphis, but for North Mississippi,” Lipinski said. “There’s a good chance that a lot of these warehouse distribution centers will either expand or relocate down in that vicinity.”

The movement by train won’t be that noticeable, however, along the Poplar Corridor – at least to motorists.

“Probably there will be one domestic intermodal train a day that will be switched at the present time from Forrest Yard out to Rossville,” he said. “You are still gong to be riding along Poplar and seeing those BNSF coal trains – three a day and their merchandise freight, the mixed freight.”

With coal traffic declining for now, Norfolk Southern executives said this week automotive and intermodal traffic more than made up for the decline in coal with double digit growth in those sectors. And the growth in intermodal across the industry means Memphis is well positioned.

For the Memphis region, the Norfolk Southern facility is one of four intermodal yards, including the Union Pacific facility in Marion, Ark., the CN-CSX intermodal yard south of Presidents Island and the BNSF Railway Co. facility at Lamar Avenue and Shelby Drive.

With the operational opening in Fayette County, the cutoff for the northbound service is three hours later than it had been out of Memphis on weekdays.

Forrest Yard retains service between Memphis and Florida and all ocean containers.

Rossville is specifically service to Erail, N.J., Morrisville, Pa., and Rutherford, Pa.

The opening has also caused a change in shipping instructions. Forrest Yard will continue to be the “Memphis” destination in shipping instructions while the new terminal will show up on the same instructions as “Rossville, TN.” even though the facility is officially known as the Memphis Regional Intermodal Facility.