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VOL. 124 | NO. 33 | Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Norfolk Southern Rules Out Pidgeon Park

By Eric Smith

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Norfolk Southern Corp. has officially ruled out Frank C. Pidgeon Industrial Park south of Downtown Memphis for its planned intermodal yard because of logistical reasons, the company confirmed Tuesday.

Susan Terpay, spokeswoman for the Norfolk, Va.-based railroad, said the site didn’t make sense for the company, which is looking to ramp up its intermodal presence here to bolster the “Crescent Corridor,” a 2,500-rail network extending from Memphis to the northeastern U.S.

She said Pidgeon Park was far away from Norfolk Southern’s main rail line and would require sharing track with another railroad, Canadian National Railway Co., potentially delaying access into and out of the facility.

“It’s kind of like being on an airport runway,” Terpay said. “You have to wait for Delta and United to take off, and you’d be sitting there waiting until you could get across the runways. They have priority.”

Possible compromise

Norfolk Southern runs 20-25 trains through Memphis daily, employs 50 local people and performs about 130,000 intermodal lifts at its 50-acre rail yard off Southern Avenue near the Mid-South Fairgrounds.

The company is looking to expand its Memphis capacity and has considered sites throughout the metropolitan area. Norfolk Southern officials remain tight-lipped about proposed sites in Fayette County, although sources close to the situation say the company already has selected property north of U.S. 72 and south of Tenn. 57.

The yard, which could see up to 2,000 trucks a day, would have an access road that cuts through private land known as Twin Hills Ranch and onto the four-lane U.S. 72, keeping those vehicles off the two-lane Tenn. 57.

That site should be welcomed by citizen groups such as the South Fayette Alliance and environmentalists like the Wolf River Conservancy, both of whom opposed a possible 500-acre site along Tenn. 57 in Fayette County between Rossville and Moscow.

That site, originally slated for a golf course, is near residential properties and the Wolf River, abutting nature easements and preserves such as the William B. Clark Conservation Area.

“I know there have been some concerns by the community about a location we were looking at, and we’ve met with them several times,” Terpay said. “We told them we’re looking at alternatives, and that’s exactly what we’re doing right now. We have not selected a site.”

Terpay added that the railroad had no immediate plans to make a decision on where to build the intermodal facility, but public meetings indicated the railroad has tentatively selected the site mentioned above.

Crisis averted – maybe

Mike Russell, a Collierville alderman and citizen, and a Piperton landowner, called the alternative U.S. 72 site “far superior” based on its distance from Tenn. 57, the Wolf River and nearby homes.

“If you believe they’re coming to Fayette County – and I will put myself in that camp – then this is the best thing anybody has shown me or told me about. It’s a qualified ‘yes,’” Russell said. “I’d just as soon it be in Idaho or Pidgeon Park, but this is by far (the best) of the three or four sites people have shown me in Fayette County. This appears to be the least challenging place in that it’s not going to shut down Poplar, it’s not going to hurt (Tenn.) 385. I think the environmental issue is much better; it’s not sitting there hugging the Wolf River.”

The Wolf River Conservancy, a Memphis-based nonprofit group working to preserve the river and its surrounding areas, has gone on record contesting the original Tenn. 57 site selection.

Conservancy CEO Steve Fleegal told The Daily News earlier this month that the yard’s truck, light and noise pollution, fueling stations and other industrial uses would jeopardize wetlands and floodplains and potentially contaminate surface and ground waters.

“Memphis is a distribution, transportation center, and railroads are more important now to the country because of energy, and we recognize that. We recognize that Norfolk Southern needs a multimodal yard. We have no problem with that,” Fleegal said in early February. “What we do have an issue with is the location of the yard. That is because there are a number of other places which are far better suited to this type of facility in the metro area. In a nutshell, that’s our position.”

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