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Port of Tampa rail project unveiled, but railroad executive hints at more to come

TAMPA

A top CSX Corp. executive praised the swift speed of the public-private partnership that designed, funded and built the new Tampa Gateway Rail Terminal — unveiled Tuesday at the Port of Tampa — in just over a year. The railroad company teamed up with the Tampa Port Authority, the Florida Department of Transportation and pipeline operator Kinder Morgan Energy Partners L.P. to build the new $30 million, 2-mile railroad loop and pipeline system that will quickly deliver ethanol and cargo.

"You get all those egos and testosterone in the room and try to get a deal done," said Clarence Gooden, CSX's executive vice president and chief commercial officer. "It is not easy. But the Port of Tampa has done it."

Gooden also said that CSX is preparing to bring more railroad projects to the Port of Tampa — but confidentiality agreements forbade him from saying any more.

The CSX executive said his company is working to add even more "unit train capability" to the Port of Tampa. That's industry lingo for a long line of 50 or more train cars delivering one commodity to one location.

Unit trains are considered faster and more efficient at delivering commodities than trains delivering different goods to different places. Kinder Morgan, for example, will be able to unload 66,000 barrels of ethanol from one 96-car train in 24 hours. CSX will bring in weekly shipments of ethanol from the Midwest to Tampa. Then Kinder Morgan will use the new rail gateway to unload the ethanol to nearby storage tanks and then send it all over Central Florida.

CSX was looking to expand its ethanol capabilities back in 2009 when the port, under former director Richard Wainio, assembled the public-private sector partnership that was celebrated Tuesday during the ceremonial driving-in of the railroad spikes at the new facility.

"It's a very good partnership that we'd like to replicate," said Tom Bannigan, president of products pipelines for Kinder Morgan. "I think we've laid a template for making similar deals elsewhere."

Design work was finished in August 2011, the contracts signed in December and work is set to be done next month. The new rail line is already finished. It is the only on-dock rail facility at a Florida port that can handle as many as 96 cars, according to the Port of Tampa.

Charles Klug, the interim director of the Tampa Port Authority, would only say that the port is working with CSX on future projects at the port. But Klug did say that the port is also using its new unit train capability to try to attract more global shipping container customers.

Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad said the gateway demonstrated Gov. Rick Scott's commitment to Florida's ports. The state contributed $7.5 million to the project, the Tampa Port Authority added $5 million and CSX $2.5 million. Kinder Morgan spent $15 million on the pipeline system. The rail line alone cost $11 million.

"There is no other port in the country better positioned than the Port of Tampa to lift our businesses," said U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, "and to lift our region."

Jamal Thalji can be reached at thalji@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3404.

Port of Tampa rail project unveiled, but railroad executive hints at more to come 09/25/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 25, 2012 10:11pm]
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