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Heartland Corridor_01

Norfolk Southern carries thousands of freight containers through the Tri-State each week on its Heartland Corridor route. Officials in Illinois plan to give railroads competition by developing a port that can handle containers that could move on the Mississippi and Ohio rivers.

While West Virginia figures out what to do with the unsuccessful (so far) Heartland Intermodal Gateway at Prichard, people in Illinois are betting container shipping will be a success on the Mississippi River.

Last month, the Alexander Cairo Port, being developed in Illinois on the Mississippi River a few miles north of the mouth of the Ohio, and the Plaquemines Port in Louisiana announced they had agreed to provide intermodal container-handling services for American Patriot Container Transport’s next-generation container shipping vessels.

The new vessels would fill the same function as the intermodal container trains that pass through this area on Norfolk Southern’s Heartland corridor. American Patriot Container Transport says it is developing boats that can haul the equivalent of six trainloads of intermodal cargo on the Mississippi or the equivalent of four trains on rivers controlled by navigation dams, such as the Ohio.

The smaller vessels would be about 595 feet long and 100 feet wide. That’s roughly the same as nine coal barges. Such boats would be able to use the smaller lock chambers on Ohio River dams.

“The vessels can safely travel upriver at three times the speed of traditional inland tows, providing faster shipping times and cost savings of up to 45% over other options,” the announcement said, “By maximizing cargo capacity and running on LNG fuel, the American Patriot vessels can greatly reduce the carbon footprint and environmental impact of shipping while decreasing rail and truck congestion and logistics cost.”

“Container shipping plays a critical role in the global trade of items ranging from agricultural products and building materials to consumer goods,” the announcement said. Bulk materials such as grain and stone move in large quantities on the lower Ohio and on the Mississippi. Consumer products tend to move by rail and truck, but the people at Cairo intend to be a player in the international movement of such goods, especially if intermodal shipments increase in the next few years as some in the transportation industry predict.

So what does that mean for this area? First, no one expects the Prichard intermodal facility to handle water traffic. The Big Sandy is too narrow and has too many curves in that area. Prichard is upriver from the spot where the Corps of Engineers dredges to maintain sufficient depth for a navigation channel, so there’s that problem, too.

This all assumes ownership of the Heartland Intermodal Gateway will pass to a company or agency willing and able to make it feasible to operate.

There’s a port at South Point, Ohio, that probably could be equipped to handle barge-to-rail container traffic if the demand exists. There’s always an “if,” and that’s a big one.

From the Virgin Hyperloop to container traffic on the Mississippi, transportation could change significantly by the time today’s infants are in the work force. The question is, will West Virginia adapt, or will we be left behind again?

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