The future of the Carolina Connector (CCX) – an intermodal rail hub that would create job growth for the state and bring business to the Port of Wilmington – is still in question after officials with Jacksonville, Florida-based CSX announced late last year that it was undergoing a companywide reassessment.
Local and state officials are waiting to hear about the future of the project and as of press time, CSX had not announced any plans to pull back or move forward with CCX.
When the Port of Wilmington announced the activation of the Queen City Express (QCE), an intermodal rail service between the port and Charlotte in July, Vice President of CSX Intermodal Dean Piacente mentioned the intermodal rail terminal, saying QCE “dovetailed” the investment CSX was making in Rocky Mount with CCX.
Plans for CCX were announced in 2016. It’s a more than $270 million infrastructure project that officials said would over time create 1,500- plus long-term jobs statewide as well as lower transportation costs for businesses and stimulate economic activity.
A spokesman with the company deferred questions in December about CCX to previously released statements by CSX officials from early November. In that statement, company officials said that in an effort to enhance its operating performance, its new leadership team was conducting a comprehensive strategic review of all existing and planned infrastructure projects.
“Intermodal will remain an important part of CSX’s business,” officials stated. “Any changes to existing service or to proposed plans will be discussed directly with CSX customers and relevant stakeholders. CSX appreciates the partnership we have developed with the State of North Carolina and we look forward to continuing the dialogue with the State about [CCX] and our plans moving forward.”
Initial plans for the CCX project, according to the company’s website, were to conduct preliminary engineering and design in 2016-17, begin construction in mid-2018 and begin terminal operations in late 2019. CXS officials recently declined to comment on the status of those plans, again saying the company had nothing further to add to its November statement.
In a statement released by his office in November, Gov. Roy Cooper said he had spoken with officials from CSX and hopes that the “significant project” still happens in eastern North Carolina.
“We understand CSX is moving to a new business model, and that it may ultimately result in a different plan for Rocky Mount. I believe in Eastern North Carolina and will keep working to show CSX that Rocky Mount is the right place for them,” the governor’s statement read.
N.C. Department of Commerce Secretary Anthony Copeland said in an email Dec. 13 that discussions are ongoing.
“New leadership at CSX has changed the company’s business model so that large hubs are no longer central to the company’s growth strategy. However, we have continued discussions with CSX representatives to determine what would best meet the needs of their stakeholders and the state,” Copeland said.
In a response to questions about the project, N.C. Ports Executive Director Paul Cozza said N.C. Ports views intermodal capability as a key feature of moving freight – efficiently transferring containers between trains and trucks – and providing a “competitive advantage” to customers.
“We continue to work in close collaboration with CSX to establish partnerships that exceed our customers’ requirements and also meet the CSX operations for precision railroading. Transporting goods as efficiently as possible is at the core of our mission.”
Considerations about CCX are “separate and apart” from QCE, the CSX spokesman said, adding that the service has been running successfully since July, and CSX is continuing to work with the port on QCE.
Steve Yost, president of the North Carolina’s Southeast Regional Economic Development Partnership, said in an email that the organization did not know enough yet about the direction of the CCX project, but that it was “disappointed that CSX is considering abandonment of the project, especially after the rigorous and lengthy level of evaluation it conducted with the location and site analysis.
“It would be beneficial to economic development in the southeast region,” he added.