Hopeful signs for freight railroading on Delmarva

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Good afternoon,

It was good to see a video of a rail spur entering the massive   Delmarva Corrugated  Packaging plant nearing completion in Dover.

The plant will tap into the growing container market of the region and add to the rail traffic mix that includes propane and grain for the region’s poultry industry.

A 188-mile-long rail route that runs from Porter (Bear) to the Eastern Shore of Virginia also gets traffic from the Maryland & Delaware, a short line that snakes into Centreville, Cambridge, and other Eastern Shore areas.

About five years ago, long-time operator Norfolk Southern decided to lease the line to Pennsylvania-based Carload Express, which rebranded the Delmarva Central railroad. 

Delmarva  Central has focused on marketing and improving its system with the flexibility with shippers that comes with its smaller size. Contrail and Norfolk Southern predecessors were not keen on dealing with ancient bridges and tracks, getting minimum attention.  Serving smaller customers was not a strong point.

The new railroad earlier received an  $18.8 million federal grant to upgrade its tracks and bridges. It’s a modest amount when you consider that a bicycle trail in northern Delaware came at the cost of $22 million.

Delmarva Central has an operating headquarters in the long-time  Delaware railroad town of Harrington.

A recent draft report from the Dover/Kent County, the Metropolitan Planning Organization City of Harrington, examined rail-focused industrial development in Harrington, including a multimodel terminal that would include a “transload” site to load and unload bulk materials and perhaps lumber from railroad cars to their  “last mile”  destinations.

With reliable rail service, transloading could take some big rigs off the road.

This may seem like pie in the sky stuff, but factors that include a long-running shortage of truck drivers may work in favor of nimbler railroads. In addition, multinational companies have  “green goals” that favor rails over trucks.

Also, a  small portion of the $1.3 trillion infrastructure bill passed by the Senate and sent to the House contains funds for short-line railroads.

Even with more help on the way, rail faces its challenges on Delmarva as manufacturing relies on   “just in time” truck shipments. 

The once-lucrative business of delivering coal to the Indian River power plant near Millsboro in southern Delaware has slowed to a trickle. It will disappear when the last unit closes next year. The closing comes despite owner NRG spending $360 million on emissions control  “scrubbers” not that long ago.

Stay dry. This newsletter returns on Monday. – Doug Rainey, chief content officer.

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