It’s almost exactly 11 years since the “Heartland Corridor” opened for business, providing an intermodal link from the Port of Norfolk, Virginia to, as the name implies, the U.S. Midwest “Heartland” with Chicago as the nominal end point.

In many respects the $391 million “Heartland Corridor” was an ambitious project that now with the Biden Administration’s Infrastructure Bill pending, might prove to be a blueprint – with caveats – for other future intermodal projects.

Heartland Corridor provides an intermodal link from the Port of Norfolk, VA to the Midwest ending in Chicago.
Heartland Corridor provides an intermodal link from the Port of Norfolk, VA to the Midwest ending in Chicago.

The Concept: U.S. 460

The Heartland Corridor is loosely delineated by U.S. 460 – a highway running east-to-west from Norfolk, Virginia to Frankfort, Kentucky and a spur of U.S. 60.

U.S. 460 travels a total of over 400 miles through Virginia, providing local access to a number of communities and connecting the larger areas of Lynchburg, Petersburg, and Hampton Roads. It also connects to U.S. 29 in Lynchburg, I- 81, I-95, and I-85. The Heartland Corridor is a key freight corridor.

It’s worth taking a look back at how the project evolved and what that might mean for other intermodal projects. The Heartland Corridor was a $397 million public-private partnership whose conceptual goal was to provide more efficient routing between the Port of Norfolk/Hampton Roads area and the U.S. Midwest.

Additionally, the project was built to provide added freight capacity and help relieve truck congestion on the interstates, improve double stack transit times, reduce greenhouse emissions and open up international trade.

Norfolk Southern freight rail lines run along most of the corridor as part of its Heartland Corridor, one of the important freight corridors in the eastern U.S, providing access between the Port of Virginia and the Midwest and into Chicago via Columbus, Ohio.

Conceptually, a double stack rail corridor would cut off nearly 200 miles of track from the then current route. It’s worth noting, while the Hampton Roads have long had rail connections, the original purpose was largely for the export of commodities like coal, agri-bulks and hi-cube double stack rail cars couldn’t effectively transit many of the rail routes thus forcing inefficient routing system, prior to the building of the Heartland Corridor.

However, to build an intermodal double stack system was going to require significant rail engineering to improve clearances, rail and road intersections and track capacity. For example, clearances were raised in 29 tunnels (any one of which was a major undertaking) to make way for double-stacked intermodal trains.

Financing the Corridor

The financing of the Heartland Corridor stood to be more complex than the engineering. The project would impact seven states, dozens of cities, numerous rail and road intersections and bridges, not to mention tunnels – the scope of the project would thus ensnare numerous state, federal and city agencies, along with the Norfolk Southern Railroad…

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