CSX hopes to make a Lackawanna rail yard a magnet for shipments that arrive at two East Coast ports and are bound for Canada.
The railroad has debuted international services connecting its Buffalo Intermodal Container Transfer Facility to ports in the New York City and Philadelphia areas.
CSX hopes to persuade shippers to put their containers on CSX trains upon arrival of commercial ships at those ports. The shipments will then be hauled to the Lackawanna intermodal yard, where they are transferred to trucks, to finish the trip to Toronto or other places in Canada. Intermodal refers to using more than one method of transportation.
The railroad is pitching its new services as an alternative to moving shipments entirely by truck from the time they arrive at the ports. Shipments will also flow in the opposite direction -- from Canada into Lackawanna, to be put on rail cars and hauled to the ports -- but those volumes are expected to be much lower.
Vance E. Bennett, director of port development for CSX Intermodal, said the new service benefits customers by allowing them to efficiently move shipments out of the ports and to easily adjust their capacity needs when exports and imports increase.
Bennett said the service has an advantage over trucks on price and is competitive with trucks on delivery time, given the time it would take a single driver to travel a comparable long distance.
CSX also sees an environmental benefit to the rail service. "We're taking a lot of trucks off the Thruway," said Rob Grosholz, terminal manager for the Lackawanna yard.
At the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the new service qualifies for financial incentives being offered to shippers to increase the number of containers they move by rail, said Bob Sullivan, a CSX spokesman.
The new services allow CSX to build on improvements completed in late 2007 at what was called the Seneca Yard, where the intermodal facility was created. Until now, that site has handled only domestic traffic.
Bennett said the new port connection service also benefits local companies, by opening up more service opportunities for them. And he said it is not uncommon to see other businesses open warehouses near a terminal such as this one, creating an economic spinoff effect.
"We see the upstate New York region benefiting from it," Bennett said.
The Lackawanna intermodal yard operates with a handful of workers. Trucks pick up containers lifted off the rail cars in the yard, which is located north of Lake Avenue.
The trucks taking the containers hauled by rail from Philadelphia and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey will often head for destinations in Canada. But in some cases the containers will be delivered to a Buffalo-area location, Grosholz said.
The shipments destined for Canada include frozen food products and finished goods such as apparel. Each container is a metal box that typically measures 40 feet long.
Maersk Line is already using the new service.
"We commend CSX Intermodal for its efforts to introduce new shorter-haul services at East Coast ports that will allow ocean carriers to leverage the many advantages of rail when moving goods to their final destination," Gordon Dorsey, senior vice president and USA operations manager for Maersk Line, said.
Norfolk Southern operates an intermodal terminal in Buffalo as well, but that operation mainly handles traffic destined for the Western New York market, said Rudy Husband, a spokesman for the railroad. He said Norfolk Southern is considering Buffalo for an international link similar to what CSX has introduced.
CSX Transportation made news in May when it ceased rail car processing and furloughed 132 employees at its Frontier Yard, a downsizing the railroad said was spurred by economic conditions. The intermodal yard in Lackawanna is a separate operation.
Bennett said he doesn't expect to see the intermodal yard's work force grow to a size that would offset the furloughs at the Frontier Yard. "What we hope is this business will expand so much that we need to hire more crew," he said.