South Side rail tunnel gains height in freight project

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It might be the second-most-asked question on the South Side these days, right after "Want another round?"

What are they doing in Tunnel Park?

The answer is that CSX Corp. is raising the ceiling of a 130-year-old railroad tunnel so taller freight trains can pass through. Crews are excavating down to the ceiling slabs and will remove them, raise the side walls and put up a new roof before restoring the landscape.

Work continues on South Side railroad tunnel

Construction on the south Side railroad tunnel is under way. The project involves raising the roof of the structure. (Video by Jon Schmitz; 10/224/2012)

The $13 million project is part of an $850 million public-private initiative to increase freight capacity in Pennsylvania and neighboring states by eliminating bottlenecks.

Railroad officials and state and local dignitaries marked the halfway point in the first phase of the National Gateway program with an event at the tunnel site on Tuesday.

PG graphic: SouthSide Works railroad tunnel to be completed
(Click image for larger version)

Forty-three projects are planned and most are either completed or under way, said Michael J. Ward, CSX chairman and CEO. The roof-raising in the old J&L Tunnel is one of the largest.

CSX also has lowered the tracks passing beneath the Smithfield Street Bridge near Station Square and is literally moving mountains to "daylight" tunnels in Somerset County, including the Pinkerton Tunnel next to the Great Allegheny Passage trail -- all to provide the 21-foot clearance needed by double-stack freight trains.

The railroad is beefing up its system to be ready for a surge in freight movement expected when expansion of the Panama Canal is completed in 2015.

CSX expects to announce within three to six months where in Allegheny County it will build a $50 million intermodal terminal, Mr. Ward said. The terminal, which will allow for the transfer of goods from trucks to trains, is planned to open in late 2014 or early 2015.

Before the heavy equipment moved in between Tunnel Boulevard and South Water Street this summer, visitors to the shops and restaurants at SouthSide Works might not have known that railroad trains were passing beneath them. And when the project is completed, that once again likely will be the case.


"While it will be invisible to people in this area, it'll be very visible on the interstates -- less trucks on the highways," said Pennsylvania Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch.

Double-stack trains consist of flatbed rail cars that carry standardized cargo containers that are stacked two high. The containers can be hauled by trucks and ocean-going vessels.

CSX says one double-stack train can carry the equivalent of 280 truckloads.

The railroad is paying $575 million toward the overall cost of the National Gateway, with federal and state funding covering the balance, including $35 million from Pennsylvania.

"This is a prime example of how to responsibly leverage public and private dollars to improve our nation's infrastructure," said U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills.


Jon Schmitz: or 412-263-1868. Visit the PG's transportation blog, The Roundabout, at Twitter: @pgtraffic.


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