Norfolk and Portsmouth Belt Line

the Norfolk and Portsmouth Belt Line services industries along the South Branch of the Elizabeth River, as well as two shipping terminals owned by the Virginia Port Authority
the Norfolk and Portsmouth Belt Line services industries along the South Branch of the Elizabeth River, as well as two shipping terminals owned by the Virginia Port Authority
Source: Norfolk & Portsmouth Belt Line Railroad Co., System Map (Figure 2)

As described by the Port of Virginia:1

Prior to 1898, Hampton Roads industries, including its myriad marine terminals, were served by eight railroads resulting in significant rail congestion. In 1898, the Norfolk and Portsmouth Belt Line Railroad (NPBL) was formed by these railroads with shares held by each of the interested railroads as a means to improve the level of service for all the rail customers.

Since that time, multiple mergers have occurred, resulting in the region having two Class I railroads, Norfolk Southern (NS) and CSX Transportation (CSX). NPBL remains with NS and CSX as the sole shareholders.

The original eight railroads were the the New York, Philadelphia & Norfolk Railroad; Norfolk & Western Railroad; Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad; Southern Railway Company; Atlantic & Danville Railroad; Atlantic Coast Line; Norfolk & Southern Railroad; and Seaboard Air Line Railroad.2

Today, the Norfolk and Portsmouth Belt Line has two stockholders. The Norfolk Southern owns 57% and CSX owns 43% of the Norfolk and Portsmouth Belt Line.

the Norfolk Southern and the Norfolk and Portsmouth Belt Line both transport cargo from the Norfolk International Terminal (NIT)
the Norfolk Southern and the Norfolk and Portsmouth Belt Line both transport cargo from the Norfolk International Terminal (NIT)
Source: Virginia Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment, Master Rail Plan for the Port of Virginia (Figure 15)

The railroad owns 26 miles of track connecting directly to Portsmouth Marine Terminal (PMT), and also has "trackage" rights across the Norfolk Southern line to connect the Norfolk International Terminal (NIT) with the short-line railroad's yard at Berkely.

It switches rail cars loaded with cargo from both terminals and various industrial sites in Norfolk and Portsmouth to either Class I railroad. It also handles interchanges with the Chesapeake and Albemarle Railroad and Bay Coast Railroad at the Portlock Yard of Norfolk Southern.3

Norfolk Southern's Portlock Yard provides an interchange site for all short-line railroads in Hampton Roads except for the Commonwealth Railway
Norfolk Southern's Portlock Yard provides an interchange site for all short-line railroads in Hampton Roads except for the Commonwealth Railway
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

The Norfolk and Portsmouth Belt Line does not connect to the Virginia International Gateway (VIG). The separate Commonwealth Railway provides "neutral" rail access to that terminal, creating competition between the Norfolk Southern and CSX for long-distance hauls of cargo. The Commonwealth Railway and the Norfolk and Portsmouth Belt Line have no physical connections with each other and are separate companies, but all the shippers in the Hampton Roads must interact with each other as they deal with capacity planning, local/state agencies, and customers.

The short-line Norfolk and Portsmouth Belt Line specializes in moving rail cars from industrial sidings with one switching engine. Car movements require going just a few miles at slow speeds to railyards where large trains are assembled. The railroad moved 22,700 rail cars in 2013, primarily loaded with grain.4

In that same year, Norfolk International Terminal (NIT) moved approximately 280,000 containers by rail. Norfolk Southern had direct access to that terminal, and assembled its arriving and departing trains each day without using the short-line.5

the Norfolk Southern owns track (Sewell's Point Line) that connects directly to the Norfolk International Terminal (NIT), so it has little need for the Norfolk and Portsmouth Belt Line to transport containers from that terminal
the Norfolk Southern owns track (Sewell's Point Line) that connects directly to the Norfolk International Terminal (NIT), so it has little need for the Norfolk and Portsmouth Belt Line to transport containers from that terminal
Source: Virginia Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment, Master Rail Plan for the Port of Virginia (Figure 12)

The major railroads operate trains with multiple locomotives move the long trains (with over 100 cars, stretching over a mile) for long distances. As described by the railroad's vice-president, handling rail cars for the "first and last mile" of the journey with switching at many different sites is a different business:6

The large railroads, the Class 1's like Norfolk Southern and CSX, their specialty is moving full trains long distances. Once they get to their destination, if you have large facilities that can handle full trains, they work well with you. But when you have smaller facilities that might be able to handle only five to 10 cars at a time, that's where the short lines come in. Their specialty is breaking down the big trains and delivering the cars to smaller facilities.

CSX has no track to the Norfolk International Terminal (NIT), but the neutral Norfolk and Portsmouth Belt Line has rights to use the Norfolk Southern tracks and deliver containers to CSX
CSX has no track to the Norfolk International Terminal (NIT), but the "neutral" Norfolk and Portsmouth Belt Line has rights to use the Norfolk Southern tracks and deliver containers to CSX
Source: Virginia Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment, Master Rail Plan for the Port of Virginia (Figure 2)

Ensuring fair competition was the reason the New York, Philadelphia and Norfolk Railroad triggered formation of the Norfolk and Portsmouth Belt Line in 1898. After building its rail line south through the Eastern Shore, constructing the new town of Cape Charles for a car float operation that barged loaded rail cars across the water to Norfolk, the New York, Philadelphia and Norfolk Railroad struggled to get other railroads to share traffic. The Norfolk and Portsmouth Belt Line was formed to serve as a "neutral" carrier, owned by the competing railroads but interchanging cars fairly with each of them.7

Until 1917, all train crews got on board the steam locomotives at the Port Norfolk Yard in Portsmouth, where all equipment was also maintained. Starting in 1917, a second rail yard was created at Sewells Point. In 1956, the railroad switched to diesel locomotives. It built the Berkley Yard in South Norfolk as the central point for train crews to report for duty and for maintenance. The Sewells Point yard was sold to the Virginia Port Authority in 2010, and now serves as the port's marshalling yard for assembling trains.8

To go between the Berkley Yard and the Norfolk International Terminal (NIT), the Norfolk and Portsmouth Belt Line used trackage rights over tracks owned by Norfolk Southern. The rights were granted through a 99-year lease signed in 1918, but the Virginia Port Authority assumed they would be renewed.

Those trackage rights are essential for the rival railroad, CSX, to transport cargo over Norfolk Souther's tracks and through the Norfolk International Terminal (NIT). Norfolk and Portsmouth Belt Line trains must stop at Norfolk Southern's Portlock Yard and switch locomotives to the other end of the train, and CSX must interchange at Berkley Yard. The delays/costs associated with extra train movements limit the competitiveness of intermodal rail at Norfolk International Terminal (NIT). As a result, most CSX traffic through Norfolk International Terminal (NIT) consists of non-containerized cargo such as large electrical transformers.

The Virginia Port Authority considered providing dual access to the terminal by constructing a new rail line for CSX. That option was quickly dropped, because:9

this rail line would need to be constructed through the urbanized heart of Hampton Roads, with multiple road and water crossings, including a major water crossing over the heavily trafficked Elizabeth River.

The port could upgrade Norfolk and Portsmouth Belt Line capacity, or support cross harbor barge service to Portsmouth Marine Terminal where CSX has direct access, but the investment required to provide competitive direct rail access is low-priority. Norfolk Southern will retain an advantage in lower-cost rail transport at Norfolk International Terminal (NIT), and customers who ship containers via CSX are expected to use Virginia International Gateway (VIG).

Rail access at the Portsmouth Marine Terminal (PMT) is the reverse of the situation at the Norfolk International Terminal (NIT). CSX has easy access via trackage rights on the Norfolk and Portsmouth Belt Line, and has leased the Norfolk and Portsmouth Belt Line marshalling yard adjacent to the Portsmouth Marine Terminal (PMT). In contrast, cargo to be carried to final destinations by the Norfolk Southern must interchange with the Norfolk and Portsmouth Belt Line at the Portlock Yard.10

CSX has direct access to Portsmouth Marine Terminal (PMT) and Norfolk Southern does not, but most container traffic has been moved to Virginia International Gateway (VIG)
CSX has direct access to Portsmouth Marine Terminal (PMT) and Norfolk Southern does not, but most container traffic has been moved to Virginia International Gateway (VIG)
Source: Virginia Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment, Master Rail Plan for the Port of Virginia (Figure 17)

Chesapeake and Albemarle Railroad

Commonwealth Railway

Hampton Roads

The Heartland Corridor

Ports in Virginia

Links

References

1. "Master Rail Plan for the Port of Virginia," Virginia Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment, April 16, 2015, p.2, http://www.vtrans.org/resources/150416_FINAL_Master_Rail_Plan_for_the_Port_of_Virginia-cvr.pdf (last checked August 5, 2016)
2. "History," Norfolk & Portsmouth Belt Line Railroad Co., http://www.npblrr.com/about-us/history/ (last checked August 6, 2016)
3. "Statewide Shortline Railroad Improvement Plan Technical Memorandum," Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, November 2, 2009, p.7, http://www.drpt.virginia.gov/media/1666/appendix-c-shortline-tech-memo.pdf; "Master Rail Plan for the Port of Virginia," Virginia Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment, April 16, 2015, p.10, http://www.vtrans.org/resources/150416_FINAL_Master_Rail_Plan_for_the_Port_of_Virginia-cvr.pdf (last checked August 1, 2016)
4. Norfolk and Portsmouth Belt Line letter to Chairman Surface Transportation Board, September 10, 2014, https://www.stb.dot.gov/PeakLetters1.nsf/7b7a1a7001f4b5d285257c78005a09c0/2f28bf9bb9e9e5f985257d51006b149f/$FILE/Norfolk%20and%20Portsmouth%20Belt%20Line%20RR%20Fall%20Peak%20Reply_2014.pdf (last checked August 7, 2017)
5. "Master Rail Plan for the Port of Virginia," Virginia Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment, April 16, 2015, p.16, http://www.vtrans.org/resources/150416_FINAL_Master_Rail_Plan_for_the_Port_of_Virginia-cvr.pdf (last checked August 7, 2017)
6. "At work with Donna Coleman of Belt Line Railroad," The Virginian-Pilot, January 30, 2011, http://pilotonline.com/business/jobs/at-work-with-donna-coleman-of-belt-line-railroad/article_0b12af36-cba5-5019-9765-f36d73ecc9a4.html (last checked August 7, 2017)
7. "The New York, Philadelphia and Norfolk," Railroad Age Gazette, Volume 45, Issue 10, pp.682-683, August 7, 1908, http://books.google.com/books?id=GWQgAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA682; Amy Waters Yarsinske, The Elizabeth River, The History Press, 2007, p.281, http://books.google.com/books?id=SlyhjXcK17wC&pg=PA281 (last checked June 8, 2013)
8. "Norfolk and Portsmouth Belt Line Railroad Company, Appellant, v. Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen, Lodge No. 514, et al., Appellees, 248 F.2d 34 (4th Cir. 1957)," U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit opinion, 248 F.2d 34, 1957, http://law.justia.com/cases/federal/appellate-courts/F2/248/34/328391/; "Master Rail Plan for the Port of Virginia," Virginia Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment, April 16, 2015, p.21, http://www.vtrans.org/resources/150416_FINAL_Master_Rail_Plan_for_the_Port_of_Virginia-cvr.pdf (last checked August 6, 2016)
9. "Master Rail Plan for the Port of Virginia," Virginia Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment, April 16, 2015, pp.21-23, http://www.vtrans.org/resources/150416_FINAL_Master_Rail_Plan_for_the_Port_of_Virginia-cvr.pdf (last checked August 6, 2016)
10. "Master Rail Plan for the Port of Virginia," Virginia Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment, April 16, 2015, pp.29-30, p.58, http://www.vtrans.org/resources/150416_FINAL_Master_Rail_Plan_for_the_Port_of_Virginia-cvr.pdf (last checked August 6, 2016)


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