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Rail merger could mean fewer trucks on the road

March 13, 1998

By DAVE McMILLION

Staff Writer

A merger between three railroad companies could reduce truck travel on Interstates 70 and 81 in the Tri-State area and reduce the amount of tax money spent for road maintenance every year by almost $2 million, according to companies involved in the deal.

Norfolk Southern Corp. and CSX Corp. officials said truck travel on area interstates could be reduced by 16.4 million miles every year if federal regulators allow them to take over Conrail Inc.

The reduction in truck traffic would cut wear and tear on the interstate highways, officials said.

Maryland State Highway Administration officials declined to comment Thursday on the CSX and Norfolk Southern claims about reduced highway maintenance costs stemming from the merger.

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State highway officials received a copy of the numbers released by the train companies and are reviewing them, said state highways spokeswoman Valerie Burnett.

Train shipments often have to be transferred from one train service to another due to limited coverage areas, but taking over Conrail would enable CSX and Norfolk Southern to greatly expand their routes.

CSX and Norfolk Southern officials said they believe the merger would enable them to speed up shipment deliveries by up to two days, thus encouraging manufacturers to ship by rail instead of truck.

It also could reduce highway congestion, said train company officials.

"All you have to do is go out on I-81 and see what's going on out there," said Robert Fort, spokesman for Norfolk Southern.

"It does make rail more attractive," said Sharon Disque, economic development coordinator for the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission.

CSX and Norfolk Southern officials said the Conrail acquisition is not an attempt to hurt the trucking industry. Trucking companies would continue to dominate the regional shipping market and could turn to rail themselves to streamline operations, train officials said.

National trucking companies like J.B. Hunt Trucking Inc. and Schneider National are finding it is economical to move their shipments over long distances by using railroad, said CSX spokesman Robert L. Gould.

Truck trailers loaded with cargo are moved onto train cars and taken to destinations as far away as Chicago. The trailers are lifted from train cars, hooked to trucks, and the shipments are driven to their destinations, said Gould and Fort.

"There's not really an anti-truck bias here," Fort said.

Using rail service to move truck trailers over long distances could be a way to deal with a truck driver shortage, said Rich Stallings of Roadway Express Inc., which operates a terminal on Oak Ridge Drive.

There is a shortage of drivers willing to make cross-country trips, officials said.

Roadway's current labor contract limits the amount of goods it can transport by rail, but the service it has receive from rail companies has been good and the rates are competitive, said Stallings.

"There could be benefits for us," said James Green, general manager of Kane Freight Lines Inc., a regional carrier that operates a terminal on Industry Drive.

CSX and Norfolk Southern submitted an application to acquire Conrail to the U.S. Surface Transportation Board last June. The board is expected to issue its final decision on the $10 billion transaction by July, according to the rail companies.

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