NORFOLK, Va.—The states of Ohio, West Virginia, and Virginia; Norfolk Southern Corporation; and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) entered into Memoranda of Agreement that govern the release of $95 million in federal funding for the Heartland Corridor double-stack clearance project. The project will enable double-stacked, international maritime and domestic containers to be transported by rail between the Hampton Roads region of Virginia and locations in the Midwest by raising tunnel clearances and modifying other overhead obstructions in western Virginia, West Virginia, and through to Columbus, Ohio. In Columbus, Heartland Corridor trains will link up with the existing Norfolk Southern network that currently can transport double-stacked containers through to Chicago.

Double-stacked trains traveling west from the Port of Virginia now must first go north to Harrisburg, Pa., to avoid tunnels that are too low. When complete, the more direct Heartland Corridor will cut 250 miles and one day of transit time between Virginia and Chicago, according to the Virginia Port Authority. In addition, the improved rail line is expected to increase opportunities for international trade along its route. New intermodal terminals are planned or under construction in Ohio, West Virginia, and Virginia.

"Harnessing the strength of the Port of Huntington Tri-State with the Port of Virginia and Port of Columbus creates a 1,100-mile corridor of unprecedented economic opportunity," said West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin. "Bringing both the public and private sectors together proves that not one, but three states have a greater capacity for potential economic development."

Through mutual agreement among all the parties, FHWA’s Eastern Federal Lands Highway Division will serve as project leader. The Heartland Corridor was designated as a Project of National and Regional Significance under the recently enacted SAFETEA-LU legislation. Improvements in the efficient movement of international and domestic containers will provide an effective alternative to over-the-road movement of freight.

"This is an important step to address the critical and growing need to increase the capacity for our rail systems to move freight, especially at a time when so much of it is moving by container between our nation and international markets", said Ohio Rail Development Commission Executive Director James Seney. "Coupled with the Rickenbacker Intermodal Hub now being built near Columbus, getting the Heartland Corridor Project underway will increase efficiencies for shippers and further strengthen our region’s strategic importance in the global economy."

The funding agreements allow work to proceed on engineering and environmental studies, with the goal of completing construction by the end of 2009.