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Why spend $33 million to gain 14 inches? Consolidated Rail Corp. recently did that to improve vertical clearances on its main line between Chicago and New York, which passes through Buffalo.

Completion of the three-year project makes it possible for Conrail to handle growing numbers of high cube containers in double-stack rail service. The Philadelphia-based railroad had to lower tracks or raise roofs at 98 bridges and tunnels, giving it 20 feet 6 inches clearance. Previous clearance was 19 feet 4 inches.

"We expect to see a significant conversion of trailers to containers," said James E. Dalberg, manager, international business development in Conrail's intermodal business group. "They're all going to be 45-foot- and 48-foot-high cube domestic boxes."

High cube containers are 9 feet 6 inches high, compared with 8-foot-6-inch conventional boxes. Dalberg said high cube international containers were also coming in, but generally were limited to 40 feet in length because of the cell construction of container ships.

The $33 million investment on the company's Water Level Route across northern Indiana, along the shore of Lake Erie, through Buffalo and Albany in New York and down the Hudson River valley provides access to the North Jersey Intermodal Terminal.

Conrail has provided double-stack service over the line since 1984, but until clearances were increased, the carrier was limited in its use of the larger containers.

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