Ceremony launches new rail hub

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Gov. Roy Cooper, right, pats U.S. G.K. Butterfield, center, on the back for his work Wednesday during a groundbreaking ceremony for the CSX intermodal rail facility at N.C. Wesleyan College.


Staff Writer

Thursday, April 25, 2019

With the turning of dirt Wednesday afternoon at N.C. Wesleyan College, Gov. Roy Cooper and fellow officials ceremonially began construction of the future CSX intermodal rail facility along U.S. 301.

Cooper told the gathering he and his team are not going to be content with one such event.

U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-1st District, and CSX President and CEO James Foote also were among eight officials who spoke at the gathering, held outdoors in humid conditions off U.S. 301.

Cooper, who was the keynote speaker, talked about the future CSX facility in the context of his administration’s emphasis on investing in education, health care and infrastructure as well as investing in rural areas.

Cooper also spoke of the bipartisan and federal, state and local effort to secure the future CSX facility.

At the same time, Cooper made clear he is a realist.

“It’s a great day, but we still have a lot of work to do ahead to make this work,” Cooper said of his larger goals. “We’re not going to rest on just shoveling dirt and celebrating.

“In many ways, our job is beginning after we leave here today — and we have to take that to heart because we’re going to have to keep this cooperation together to make it work.”

That was not to say the Tar Heel State’s chief executive was not upbeat, as he told the gathering he believes North Carolina is the best state in the nation.

“We’re sending a message across the country and across the world that North Carolina is the place for you to come, bring your business, create your jobs, raise your family,” Cooper said. “What’s happening in this area is fantastic — the quality of life, the homes that are going up.”

Cooper also noted the ongoing Rocky Mount Mills commercial and residential development.

“This is going to be a destination place,” he said. “And when rural North Carolina counties decide to show what they can do and find their lane, then success is not far away.”

The future CSX facility is going to be located across U.S. 301 from N.C. Wesleyan College in Edgecombe County and is anticipated to be ready by late 2020.

The facility is going to be a place for freight trains to arrive, with the freight to be off-loaded onto other trains or trucks for distribution.

During Wednesday’s gathering, Butterfield told Foote the nearby rail line is historically important as having once been the longest in the world. Butterfield also noted the line was constructed by former slaves.

Butterfield went on to tell the gathering he believes eastern North Carolina is on the rise.

“We have so much to offer,” he said. “CSX did the analysis and came to the same conclusion as we have known for years — and that is this region, this region, is ripe for economic development.”

Foote told the gathering, “We are by far, by any measure today, the best-run railroad in North America. And we are committed from the top to the bottom to making this project a huge success.”

CSX, based in Jacksonville, Fla., in 2016 announced plans to build a facility, but CSX eventually put those plans on hold and reassessed the company’s business model.

In June, the state Department of Transportation and CSX announced they had reached an agreement on a scaled back facility.

CSX is planning to contribute at least $40 million to the project and the state transportation department is going to invest up to at least $118 million.

N.C. Wesleyan President Dewey Clark told Wednesday’s gathering the college is eager to provide young minds well-trained in the world of logistics. Clark also noted N.C. Wesleyan has rolled out a logistics degree program and recently hired a faculty person in this area.

Additionally, Clark said he believes Rocky Mount has come full circle in 200 years because the area began as a logistics hub on the Tar River.

“So I think our best days are ahead of us — and CSX is a big reason for that,” he said.

State Rep. James Gailliard, D-Nash, said he was elated afterward for many reasons.

“It’s job creation. It’s economic development. It’s human development. It’s community development,” Gailliard said. “It shows the power of diversity and inclusion — and how the Twin Counties are just really becoming the place for people to raise a family, work, play and retire.”

Nashville Mayor Donald Street afterward said he believes the future CSX facility is in the right place to distribute all kinds of goods from everywhere.

And Street said he believes if there can be an overseas link via the shipping ports in Virginia’s Hampton Roads area.

“We’re going to be the inland port city,” he said. “Optimism is high.”