PEMBROKE — Tons of dirt are being moved and packed daily near Union Chapel Road in Pembroke as part of an $18.4 million investment, a new railroad bridge needed to expand rail freight throughout North Carolina.
The 2.4-mile-long Pembroke Connector project is under way with Lumberton contractor C.M. Lindsay and Sons winning a $10.2 million grading contract last year, according to Paul Worley, rail division director for the North Carolina Department of Transporation.
When the grading is complete in November 2017, CSX Transportation will build the track and railroad signals. The project is expected to be complete in April 2018, Worley said.
The project also includes a Union Chapel Road rail overpass and relocation of the Jones Road crossing to eliminate excessive blocking of that crossing when westbound trains are waiting for a signal, Worley said.
“This will drive more use, more business that goes into our Wilmington port that connects into Charlotte,” Worley said.
Greg Cummings, economic development director for Robeson County, said that CSX’s A Line goes north-south from New York to Florida, along the Interstate 95 corridor, and the B Line goes from Charlotte to Wilmington along U.S. 74. The tracks intersect in Pembroke, where the connector is being built, allowing trains to switch lines.
“I think it definitely will be a benefit to the state because it does give easier access from Fort Bragg to Wilmington whenever they have equipment movement and it gives quick access back to the Wilmington port,” Cummings said. “Throughout Southeastern North Carolina, we have quite a few industries, all the way from Richmond, Scotland, Robeson, Bladen, Columbus, Pender and Brunswick counties, that use that B line as far as exporting products.”
It also opens up faster import opportunities, he said.
Mark Ward, executive director of economic development in Scotland County, said the project opens up inter-modal shipping opportunities up and down the B Line.
“The benefits for this is — when a cargo item gets off the port in Wilmington, within 24 hours it will be in Charlotte,” Ward said. “Charlotte is becoming a hub for distribution outside of the ports. That’s what’s going to be huge. For our customers, if a company is going to ship something overseas, 24 hours from when they put it on the railway car, it will be in the port.”
Because there has never been a direct train route to the Wilmington port from Charlotte, rail delivery can take as long as three days, Ward said.
A related project, part of the future Queen City Express, is scheduled for Laurinburg, where the Department of Transporation will work with CSX to develop and build a two-mile rail passing track at an estimated cost of $9.1 million, that will enable long trains traveling between Wilmington and Charlotte to pass each other.
Gov. Pat McCrory recently announced the creation of the Queen City Express inter-modal service, which will carry containers on a train and connect Charlotte to the port of Wilmington via existing rail lines going through Laurinburg. It’s a joint partnership between North Carolina and CSX that will benefit the entire state and foster economic growth throughout the Southeastern U.S., said Patrick Molamphy, member of the DOT board.
Farther to the north, another project, in Edgecombe County, CSX will invest $160 million to build the Carolina Connector, an inter-modal hub, a project announced in July.
Reach Terri Ferguson Smith at 910-416-5865.