The completion of CSX Transportation’s DeWitt Rail Yard modernization project offers the potential for the Port of New York and New Jersey to further its goal of moving more freight through its $600 million ExpressRail on-dock rail system. The Port of New York and New Jersey has seen a significant increase in the share of rail cargo to 17 percent of overall volumes as a result of the ExpressRail network expansion, including four operational facilities. The DeWitt modernization project is designed to lower shipping costs and make the region’s commodities more competitive.
The enhanced rail yard in Syracuse, operated by CSX Transportation, will provide weekday intermodal service between Syracuse, N.Y., and the Port of New York and New Jersey’s ExpressRail Elizabeth terminal, also known as Millennium Marine Rail (MMR), which is jointly operated by APM and Maher terminals in Elizabeth, N.J. Set to commence in late July, the service caps a two-year, public-private project to modernize DeWitt The enhanced rail yard will provide cargo owners with more trip options, offer an alternative to the 245-mile truck haul, and reduce truck traffic through the region’s largest marine terminals. One 10,000-foot train is equal to removing 297 trucks off the road, yielding a reduction in traffic congestion and improving air quality. ExpressRail growth presents additional options for the movement of cargo in an environmentally sustainable way.
For the past six months, CSX has moved about 20 containers weekly between Elizabeth and Syracuse, said Cory Wyatt, manager of intermodal rail development for The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. CSX estimates that 200 to 400 containers move weekly by truck between the Port of New York and New Jersey and Syracuse, some of which could be converted to rail. Freight moving through terminals other than Maher and APM will also be able to use the new service through the rail facility’s third-party truck gate.
As the region surrounding DeWitt attracts more distribution centers, CSX expects to handle up to 30,000 containers annually from importers of consumer and retail goods and possible agriculture exporters. In 2021, Amazon will move into a 3.8 million-square-foot warehouse currently under construction in the Clay, N.Y. Along with strengthening the catchment area for container imports into New York and New Jersey, the Syracuse depot aims to boost the ports’ share of bulk commodity exports such as lumber and grain, Wyatt said. DeWitt’s long-term capability as an intermodal depot will depend on attracting enough import containers to balance out the needs of exporters.
Before refurbishing, DeWitt was a “wheeled” operation, requiring shippers to use the rail terminal’s chassis for containers coming in and out of the yard. CSX began upgrading the DeWitt facility in 2018 with the help of a $19 million grant from New York State. The upgrades include new cranes and lift equipment, additional yard space for stacking containers, and technology and security enhancements for international import-export moves. With the enhancements, DeWitt is now a “grounded” container operation, increasing its capacity and allowing outside companies to move freight through the facility.