Businesses will be able to ship goods by rail more easily between Charlotte and the Port of Wilmington thanks to planned improvements to a freight rail service.
The N.C. Department of Transportation will receive $34.8 million in federal grants to enhance the safety and efficiency of the Queen City Express, a direct freight rail service running daily between the Wilmington port and the intermodal terminal in Charlotte. Construction will begin in 2022.
“What these improvements do is they contribute to the capacity of that route to handle container traffic, making that a more attractive option for existing businesses in the Charlotte area and even potentially attracting new businesses to the region,” said Jason Orthner, director of the NCDOT railway division.
CSX launched the Queen City Express in 2017 to increase intermodal shipment of containers — the transport of containers of goods between multiple transportation modes like ships, trucks and trains — between Charlotte and Wilmington.
NCDOT will make changes to 33 railroad crossings in Wilmington, Polkton, Monroe and Waxhaw, and those changes will range from improving warning signals to consolidating crossings. Orthner said these changes will allow both cars and trains to pass through crossings more efficiently.
Other planned improvements include increasing the speed at which trains can travel through Wilmington to the port and increasing the capacity of sidings, where trains pass each other, at several points along the route. These two improvements will allow the railway to handle more and longer trains.
Paul Cozza, executive director of the N.C. Ports Authority, said in a statement that the project will make Charlotte more accessible for ports via rail.
According to the N.C. Ports Authority, one freight train can take up to 280 trucks off the highway.
Orthner said the NCDOT project will hopefully increase the use of the Queen City Express, thereby reducing air pollution, traffic and road damage caused by semi-trailer trucks.
Bethany Welch, spokeswoman for the N.C. Ports Authority, said data on how many Charlotte businesses use the freight service cannot be released without companies’ permission.
Mark Bartmann, the national intermodal manager of the global transport company Kuehne + Nagel International AG, said the Charlotte branch of the company uses the Queen City Express infrequently because only a few sailings arrive to the port each week.
But the company is looking to increase its use of the rail service to reduce its environmental and highway impact, as well as save money on shipping.
Bartmann said Kuehne + Nagel would be more likely to use the route for higher volumes of container transport if the freight service received more ships and had more efficient railway capacity between Charlotte and Wilmington. He said the NCDOT project could encourage more businesses to use the service.
“We need to put more freight onto the rail and in order to do so the infrastructure needs to be set in the right way,” Bartmann said. “The more trucks we can take away, the better it is for all of us.”