A Transfer from Trains to Trucks

June 17, 2011 at 12:20 pm 17 comments

A project to widen the Panama Canal is expected to be finished by 2014.  That means the Port of Baltimore can expect an increase of incoming cargo over the next few years, and the state of Maryland is hoping to move that cargo quickly using double-stack container cars–which won’t be able to fit through Baltimore’s antiquated Howard Street tunnel.

To work around the problem, Maryland’s Department of Transportation is considering working with the transportation company CSX to create a facility south of the city where the cargo would be transferred from trains to trucks.  Several sites are being considered for the transfer station: Beltsville, Hanover, Jessup, or Montevideo. 

We’re going to speak with the Maryland DOT, but we also want to hear from people who live in or near those towns.  What are your thoughts about having a facility nearby?  What are your concerns?   What questions do you have?

Let us know by leaving a comment below, give us a call at 410-881-3162, or email us at mdmorning@wypr-dot-org.


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17 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Kurt  |  June 17, 2011 at 5:24 pm

    If you look at the following Facebook groups that have organized in opposition to the proposed sites in Beltsville and Elkridge you will set lots of questions. “No Beltsville Intermodal” and “NoElkridgeIntermodal”. Beltsville also has the following email address available for those people not on Facebook nobeltsvilleintermodal@gmail.com.

    There have been many questions submitted to MDOT but no answers. Even simple questions like “How many rail miles is it from the Port of Baltimore to each of the sites?” is unanswered after several months.

  • 2. gary  |  June 20, 2011 at 7:41 am

    I live on Montevideo Rd near the proposed site at Montevideo. I have counted no less than 220 detached homes within 1/3 mile of the site, 50 on Montevideo Court alone. The 24/7 noise, i.e. metal-on metal clanging. loud crane backup whistles, truck horns and airbrakes by itself will make life miserable for affected residents,not to mention the constant traffic spewing diesel fumes on forest ave, wigley ave and montevideo rd. Many wiil find themselves automatically under water on their mortgages. How can one move away–who will buy your house? I believe CSX has already internally decided on which of the 4 sites they want but will not disclose this because it would probably violate the NEPA process and give affected residents more time to mobilize an effective opposition. A rep from AA county exec Leopold’s office said at a Jessup Improvement Association meeting on June 6 that Mr Leopold wasn’t even aware of the proposed site on the Anne County line at Montevideo. I understand that as long as a company can demonstrate to the Federal gov’t that they have followed the NEPA process they are never turned down. No doubt CSX will manipulate the NEPA process to their advantage: there is big money to be made doulble stacking flatbed rail cars with tractor trailer freight.

  • 3. David  |  June 21, 2011 at 11:36 am

    There are less homes surrounding the others sites but all will require far more significant site improvements at taxpayer cost. And as a Howard Co resident I want to see these jobs and tax base in our County. Less than 1% of the property in Howard Co is zoned M-2, the County’s most intensive use, and it’s been deliberately placed along rail lines for decades. If we start giving what little we have away, will the County just forfeit those opportunities or drop it next to someone else’s property?

    Many forms of manufacturing, cargo storage and transfer are zoned as a matter of right on this site and uses such as junk yards, aircraft landing and storage of explosives is posible under conditional use. Residents who willingly purchased homes near this either didn’t do their homework or took a risk to get into a house at a lower price than if it were in a more desireable location. All residential buyers sign a document explaining that they have a right to review the County’s zoning and land use maps and regulations and even tells them where to get the information. It’s not the responsibility of the taxpayers, CSX, the existing property owner or the government to bail those residents out of their poor decision.

    Alternatively, when the owner of this land made his/her investment, they paid a price commensurate with those potential uses. Taking that zoning away to bail a group people out of their own poor decisions is paramount to government theft. If the residents want to prevent the owner from doing what he or she is entitled to do with their own private property, those residents are welcome to buy the land and turn it into whatever they want.

    Zoning exists to create predictability for everyone in land use and and it’s not fair to change the rules on property owners after they’ve made their investment. That’s why I generally oppose increasing a property’s intensity of use to the inconvenience of neighbors who relied on the zoning when they bought their own properties. Yet owners of land that is already zoned for intensive uses deserve the chance to benefit from that zoning. And finally, the County taxpayers also have a right to benefit from the jobs and tax base growth resulting from projects like this. That’s why we have M-2 zoned land in the first place.

    • 4. Laurie  |  June 25, 2011 at 4:27 pm

      Obviously you don’t live near one of the proposed sites in Howard County, and those of us who live off of Hanover Road, whether or not we knew this area was zoned for industrial use, never imagined something of this magnitude or proportion being considered for this area.

      Yes, our houses may be priced a bit lower than other “more desirable” areas in Howard County because of the train, and perhaps we made this trade-off so that our children too, could get a quality Howard County education. Your comments are both insulting and pompous, and I’m glad you are NOT my neighbor.

      • 5. Art  |  June 25, 2011 at 7:05 pm

        You never imagining that somebody would develop their property to the limit of their zoning rights does not give you the right to take away their opportunities. I also moved to Howard County for good schools but managed to get in a better school district than Hanover and a neighborhood that is not close to railroad tracks because my ego didn’t require me to buy a big modern house. I valued the schools and community surroundings more than the flash of my house.

      • 6. Charles Menk  |  June 25, 2011 at 11:05 pm

        ART… When I bought into the area back in 2001 it was after fighting for over 5 months to get a house (if you were not in the market back then, you have no appreciation for what my 8 month pregnant wife and I went through)! We bid on over 30 houses (in Anne Arundel and Howard County), over bid on many and still lost out! So, when I finally was able to negotiate on my house here on Skipton Drive, the specifics of zoning on the land across the tracks was not high on my list of concerns. I did a drive on Race road, listened to the trains as they passed and while not my ideal dream house, found it acceptable. That was offered as a point of reference for your callous, short sited analysis of why people by homes… But not really the root of the issue here… The problem here is that we keep hearing that the process is transparent and will be fair and just and that there are no sites above the others. IF that is so, why was the public not informed of the sites until the top four were picked when there was “apparently” a process that down selected to twelve THEN four. Why was the public not aware that CSX had purchased over $1 Million in property at the Hanover site via an affiliate (so as to not be listed as a CSX buy) PRIOR to even the list of 12 being decided (and when originally challenged by the residents, denied a purchase occurred)? And if all sites are equal, why does CSX have options on the rest of the Hanover site but has no such claims in any of the other sites (this from a CSX rep to me in perosn)! No Art, this is more about being run over by CSX because they “CAN” rather than following a process to ascertain the most logical site. IF logic resulted in the selection of the Hanover site AND EVERYONE was being above board, I would be saying, I rolled the dice, did not do my homework and now I am paying… But that is not the case here ART!

  • 7. gary  |  June 21, 2011 at 1:24 pm

    Except for William Burnett Co. and a small metal bldg across Montevideo Rd. from it (both adjacent to the CSX tracks) the entire immediately affected area in Anne Arundel county is zoned residential only and has been for at least the 30 years I have lived there. As for the Hanover/Race Rd site, I haven’t heard of any proposals to change the zoning. Certainly, many businesses can and already amicably coexist with the adjacent residential community. It is the extreme impact that CSX’s facility will have that has generated so much homeowner opposition.

  • 8. Greg  |  June 21, 2011 at 2:04 pm

    As a long time Howard County and Elkridge resident I must say that the Elkridge Hanover site is the least appealing site for east county residents. The location that is under consideration is holding up the construction of a new and badly needed elementary school. The site of the elementary school at Oxford Square is being donated to the county by the developer. I would have to say that will benefit taxpayers of Howard County much more than the handful of jobs that will transfer from the Seagrit Marine terminal. Also, how much taxes do you think the railroad will actually pay to the county? Now the biggest hold up for the school is that the folks at the board of ed are concerned about the safety of the children attending the school with this facility being 3/4 mile away, what does that say about the safety and well being of the 365+ families that live within 1/4 mile of the proposed facility site? Not to mention that MDOT “working” with CSX really means that MDOT is giving CSX $75,000,000.00 to build this facility. This gift from the State that has to raise tolls and taxes while cutting services to residents. Pretty generous gift to a highly profitable private held company. The other issue that the area residents have with the railroad operating a facility here is that they are exempt from any noise pollution regulations and the facility is a 24/7 operation, unlike other businesses that would operate in a M-2 zone. All in all the ideal location is Jessup, the only neighbors there are prisoners, the property is already state owned, the only thing standing in the way is a power substation that would require relocating.

  • 9. Mitch  |  June 22, 2011 at 9:08 am

    People keep pointing to zoning to justify the placement of rail facilities in industrially zoned areas. What they miss is that railroads are exempt from zoning restrictions (e.g. setbacks, height restrictions, hours of operations) as well as noise ordinances. Federal law gives the railroads the authority to ignore zoning constraints. People made informed decisions about where they chose to live, but when a railroad moves in they change the rules.

  • 10. Sandy  |  June 22, 2011 at 9:30 am

    I appreciate MD Morning covering this issue, but many things were not covered. CSX never directly answered the question of why it would consider placing a facility such as this near residential areas. Nor was the bigger question addressed of why Governor O’Malley, the Maryland Department of Transportation, and the MD General Assembly are willing to stand by and allow CSX to select sites near residential areas. There are dozens of sites in Maryland that would work for an intermodal facility that would not impact communities, but these sites are not even under consideration. Why is the state allowing CSX to do whatever it wants?

  • […] You can see some of the listener comments at our website. […]

  • 12. Art  |  June 22, 2011 at 10:23 am

    Gary, zoning change isn’t required for the Hanover site. That’s the whole point. The zoning is there, it was there when that subdivision was built and the land has always been intended for an intensive use as reflected in the general plan and zoning. If people buy houses without checking that information it’s not up to the County, State, CSX or the owner of the Hanover site to fix it for them (they sign a form in their contract telling them they should check it out).

    Greg, of course the Hanover site is the least appealing for adjacent residents, just like the Jessup site is the least appealing for those neighbors and so on. Plus, each of the other 3 sites have extensive environmental issues and will require millions more in site work. And safety isn’t what’s holding up schools. There are plenty of schools within a mile of manufacturing, rail tracks and highways and they’re all fine. The issue is threats from demanding parents who don’t want the school near the tracks and the politicians who pander to them. As for the $75 million, I agree that sounds like a ton of money and it certainly makes sense for the taxpayers to question the economics no matter the site.

    Mitch, are you suggesting that the homes predate the rail tracks themselves? Those tracks have been there forever. And they’re not light rail or metro, they’re big, loud, freight train tracks. Or are you suggesting that people knew they were moving next to tracks but didn’t know what the rest of the zoning was and claim that’s “informed?” Or did everyone know what the zoning was and just assume the government would protect them someday like everything else is this society these days. Personal responsibility for your own decisions is a big part of this.

    Sandy, what’s your basis to assert there are dozens of sites that are better than the Hanover site? Are you a transportation and logistics expert? Why would CSX and the politicians go through all of this if here were better sites? The Hanover site is closest to the Port and the most interstates, which is the point of an operation that transfers things from rail, boat and truck. And I doubt the State will “let CSX do whatever it wants,” and expect that many restrictions on noise, lighting, height and developer investment into roads and schools will be negotiated. That’s the real fight and residents who choose to just vilify the company and government in an attempt to stop something that isn’t going to stop is a waste of everyone’s time.

    • 13. Mitch  |  June 25, 2011 at 6:19 pm

      Let’s all get the facts correct.

      The tracks in Hanover predate the homes (although there may be a home or two within 1/4 mile which came later).

      But those homes along the tracks predate the 1996 change in federal law in which congress created the Surface Transportation Board which extended the railroad authority which is in question here.

      You are correct – no zoning change is required for the Hanover site, since the railroads, under the authority of the Surface Transportation Board can ignore zoning. CSX makes the zoning plan irrelevant. Zoning was not one of the criteria CSX and MDOT had on the initial criteria for the initial 12 sites.

      CSX has already indicated that it intends to operate the facility in a manner which is inconsistent with M2 Zoning. Furthermore, federal law gives the railroads the power to pre-empt local zoning ordinances. They don’t even need to file requests for variances to exceed limitations on setbacks or height restrictions. They also don’t need to comply with state or local noise ordinances. They can’t make it work unless they take unilateral actions.

      You may doubt the state will let the railroads be good neighbors, but the railroads don’t have to listen to the state. So says the Surface Transportation Board.

      If there is a public discussion on the issue, let’s at least get the facts correct.

      • 14. Art  |  June 25, 2011 at 6:54 pm

        The fact that railroads don’t need to conform to zoning doesn’t mean that’s the case here. The land is zoned M-2 and both the County and the owner of that property have every right to use pursue those uses for the maximum economic benefit. Knowing that railroads can do so much outside of zoning makes buying a home near rail tracks an even greater gamble.

        If this specfic project does not conform to M-2 zoning then the reisdent have a legitimate beef. Probably just dumb luck since most of them didn’t take the time to check the zoning, but nonetheless it gives the community a way to negotiate.

  • 15. Chris  |  June 22, 2011 at 1:04 pm

    The elephant in the room is twofold: first, there will never be Asia all-water cargo that will move inland via rail. No shippers will accept a longer transit time and higher rail costs. This concept of reverse intermodalism is wholly rejected by the shipping community.

    Second, the port of Baltimore had plenty of capacity before it forced its concessionaire to build another berth. Here again, Baltimore will never replace New York as a shipping alternative.

    Lastly, the current railroads (BNSF & UP) have enough margin in their rates to combat any East Coast migration.

    So stop wasting money and time CSX and MPA, it’s another poorly thought out pipe dream.

  • Here are some comments on the Maryland Morning show.

    First, the CSX VP wasn’t accurate when he said CSX and MDOT will not determine the site, and that it will be done by the “NEPA Process”. The reality is that the material required by the NEPA process will be gathered by consultants hired by CSX. This material will be put into a report by MDOT, which includes a recommended site. The report will be sent to the sponsoring federal agency (either the Federal Railroad Agency or the Federal Highway Administration in this case) which will coordinate a NEPA review by other federal agencies (e.g. Army Corps of Engineers, EPA, etc). This review only covers whether the process was followed – it does not determine the site. The site will be determined by MDOT based on information provided by CSX.

    Regarding the argument that people knew the risk when they bought homes by the railroad – the impact living next to the railroad with trains passing from time to time is not comparable to living next to a 24/7 Intermodal facility. The Hanover site has been underutilized as an industrial site for at least 40 years. It does not make sense in areas with high demand for housing development to leave the land next to underutilized industrial zoning idle. The people advocating that the intermodal site should go next to residential areas need to realized that the time for that industrial land to be an intermodal site or similar use has passed. That ship left the harbor and is through the canal. The market has spoken – the highest and best use is residential and compatible industrial in Hanover and Montevideo.

    The intermodal site belongs in Jessup where there are no nearby residences. Note that the cost of site prep is not a NEPA consideration.

    One last NEPA observation. the NEPA process has existed for decades. It’s well understood by CSX and their consultants. When you understand the process, and control the inputs, you control the output. The site selection criteria and the four candidate sites were chosen by MDOT and CSX with no public awareness or participation whatsoever. The fact that CSX was buying properties at the Hanover site six months ago through a front company and MDOT was doing traffic studies on the roads a year ago suggests strongly that the plan from the start was to put the intermodal site next to 365 homes in Elkridge, and the NEPA process is “eyewash”. CSX and MDOT want us to believe that the site will be chosen by a process, where nobody is accountable, when in reality the site will be chosen by CSX and MDOT, and if left to their own devices, the site will be Hanover.

    This whole exercise needs to be stopped right now, and redone from the start where residential impacts are explicitly considered in the site selection criteria. Realtors are already steering potential homebuyers away from homes near the potential sited. This is damaging my neighbors now.

  • 17. Charlene Daniel-Green  |  June 23, 2011 at 5:37 am

    No one seems to remember that the proposed Hanover location is directly across from Deep Run tributary, which runs into the Chesapeake Bay. Or that the Hanover site is also across a two-lane street from state parkland. Or that the Hanover site is directly along a major bike path connecting the BWI trail with the Patapsco Park bike trails, used by hundreds if not thousands of bike riders each week. It’s also a major bird watching area that draws birdwatchers from across the state. If the NEPA process is valid (which I highly doubt), this environmental impact study should prove the Hanover location the least environmentally sound for site selection.


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