Polar Express? Northward bound but not north enough

I’m all for helping kids get to the North Pole to see Santa, but isn’t there somewhere outside our community to place a train siding rail spur?

When CSX Railroad decided not to place the siding in Irmo a few weeks ago, many thought our community would not have the issue come back up again.

But for the past few weeks, word has been spreading (you may need to refresh this old link in order to read it) and it appears CSX’s is moving forward with another plan which would place the siding in the Ballentine/White Rock area (perhaps near The Lowman Home and Lake Murray Elementary).

As often happens in our active community, our neighbors get involved and rally around causes. This instance is no exception. Already there have been meetings on how best to stop this from happening – if it can be stopped at all. Leading those efforts are several people such as John Davis, Paul Addy, Gerald Brasington and others who this week met at the Lowman Home to discuss options. Les Tweed, President of the Ballentine-Dutch Fork Civic Association, is also lending a hand but not in the capacity of President but instead as a concerned citizen. Jonathan Harling is believed to be the spokesman for the group.

Senator John Courson, US Congressman Joe Wilson, and I have also been in contact with CSX officials. Our local Richland County Councilman, Bill Malinowski, is also involved as well.

Obviously, CSX officials know our feelings about the proposal. At this point, we are trying to gather as much information as possible. Unfortunately, railroads are a federal issue and therefore out of my state jurisdication; however, I am certainly working to help find a reasonable solution.

Relocating the spur would be the best choice. Next to that, if it ends up in our community I want assurances on several fronts about any increased risks, any increase in traffic count, contingency plans, etc.

One thing to keep in mind is that every property-owner has rights and those rights include the freedom to use/sell their land as they see fit. I will not fault any property owners that choose to exercise their rights to sell and I hope you would also do the same. We definitely do not need our community imploding against our own people.

I do know that there appears to be some misinformation in relation to the exact location, the intent of CSX, and the overall impact on our community. As I learn more, I will certainly keep everyone posted.

UPDATED AT 3:15 EST

No sooner had I posted this entry did I receive an email from CSX.

Dear Representative Ballentine,

I am writing concerning your interest in the location for a CSX passing siding in the White Rock area of Richland County. In order to maintain a safe and viable network for our customers and the state of South Carolina, CSX is committed to this project and I am pleased to be able to share this information with you.

The United States is currently experiencing a tremendous amount of growth in freight rail volumes. The country is moving more freight, driven by population growth-especially in the Southeast. U.S. consumption is expected to grow by 62% between 2005 and 2020. In order for this growth to be productive, the country needs a strong rail system. At CSX, we are taking steps to ensure a safe, efficient and reliable rail network is in place. In 2007, CSX spent approximately $1.7 billion in capital expenditures and we expect to spend between $1.6 billion and $1.7 billion annually through 2010.

As you will recall in 2006, CSX was asked by Richland County and the Town of Irmo to explore alternative locations for a planned siding in Richland County. In response to that request, CSX entered into a thoughtful review process, conducted engineering studies, considered a number of factors, including environmental impacts, and decided on the White Rock location.

The location in White Rock met our exacting criteria for siding development. Its location is important for two reasons:

The location is along a 30 mile stretch of single main track. Placing the siding next to such a long stretch of track will assist with the fluidity of the network and will keep trains moving in the area.

Secondly, because of its close proximity to Columbia, the siding will reduce congestion in CSX’s Cayce Terminal and beyond, to utility, automotive and plastics customers.

The line that currently exists in the White Rock area is part of CSX’s I-26 Gateway. This line carries coal for utilities to produce electricity for South Carolina residents, finished automobiles, plastics, grain and intermodal containers. While I understand the shipment of hazardous materials is a concern, CSX does not release detailed information about these shipments publicly, for security reasons. However, we will provide detailed information to emergency response officials.

We work very closely with emergency response officials to ensure they are prepared and properly trained to respond to railroad incidents. CSX provides this training at no cost to the emergency responders. In fact in October, 2006, CSX completed a hazardous materials drill in Columbia with representatives from the City of Columbia, Richland County and the University of South Carolina in attendance. In 2007, CSX also participated in a brief table top exercise at the Lowman Home, along with emergency response officials, to discuss responses to a railroad incident. I will be glad to work with you to ensure all appropriate emergency responders receive additional information on hazardous materials and receive any additional training they feel is necessary.

As a common carrier, CSX is obligated by federal law to haul hazardous materials. It is a responsibility we take seriously and we strive every day to ensure the safe delivery of these vital commodities. CSX has achieved a better than 99% success rate for transporting those carloads without incident.

Rail is by far the safest and most environmentally friendly way to transport goods and is three times more efficient than over the road alternatives. A train can move a ton of freight 423 miles on a single gallon of fuel. One train can remove approximately 280 trucks from our congested highways. In addition, since 1980, through technology and innovation the railroad industry has improved locomotive fuel efficiency by approximately 80%.

I have attached some additional facts on the proposed siding. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have further questions. I will also be pleased to speak with any of your constituents, should you feel it beneficial for me to do so.

Sincerely,

John W. Dillard

John W. Dillard
Director of State Government Affairs
CSX Transportation
1201 Main Street, Suite 1980
Columbia, South Carolina 29201
Phone: 803.748.1280
Fax: 803.748.1338

Facts Concerning CSX Siding in White Rock, SC

Plans call for the siding to be approximately 7,000 feet in length.

The siding will be built on the North side of CSX’s existing main track, opposite of Hwy. 76.

The siding will extend from the East side of Old Hilton Road to the West side of Three Dog Road. It will cross Lynn McCartha Road, Walter McCartha Road and Three Dog Road. CSX has and will continue to work with Richland County to mitigate impacts on local vehicular traffic.

The purpose of the siding is to allow CSX to effectively meet and pass trains. It is not intended as a storage track. Although there may be times when trains occupy the siding for longer periods of time, trains will generally not occupy the siding for extended periods of time.

The switches will be automated and controlled by CSX’s dispatchers. Of note, the incident in Graniteville, SC involved manual, hand thrown switches. The switches that will be used in White Rock were designed to prevent such an accident.

Today, approximately 12 trains a day operate through White Rock. While we do expect volumes to grow, we do not anticipate additional trains on this line immediately. This siding will simply allow us to move the existing traffic safely and with more fluidity.

Main commodities are coal, finished automobiles, grain, intermodal containers.