Gov. Roy Cooper was among the several state and local dignitaries present Thursday at the official opening ceremony of the CSX Carolina Connector intermodal terminal in Edgecombe County.
CSX officially opened what it termed “the latest and one of the most technologically advanced intermodal rail terminals on its network” on Thursday morning at 5770 Battleboro Road near the Edgecombe-Nash county line.
“This is fantastic,” Cooper told the Telegram. “We have worked on this project a number of years, and it is coming at exactly the right time.”
The Carolina Connector, which will also be known as CCX, will provide multi-modal supply chain opportunities to industries in the region, according to a statement by the company.
Rocky Mount resident Melvin Mitchell, the local District Four representative on the state Board of Transportation, served as the master of ceremonies for the grand opening event.
“This terminal will deliver innovative technology in the most energy-efficient way — over land,” Mitchell said. “This project is truly a partnership between NC DOT, CSX and the Carolinas Gateway Partnership.”
State Transportation Secretary Eric Boyette also spoke at the event as did Mayor Sandy Roberson.
Roberson said that railroads have been a part of Rocky Mount history and his own personal history for a long time.
“This has been a long journey, but it is exciting to see this facility in operation,” Roberson said. “This has become a generator economically for us.”
In an earlier interview, Edgecombe County Manager Eric Evans said he also envisions the promise that the facility will bring to the county.
“This is very exciting. This is an impressive facility,” Evans said. “This kind of facility draws manufacturers and folks in the logistics and distribution business that want to be close to it.”
Norris Tolson, president and CEO of the Carolinas Gateway Partnership, stressed the economic benefits he expects the CCX to bring to the area.
“This is an excellent public-private partnership. It shows what can happen when business and government get together and decide to do things,” Tolson said. “It is going to bring some wonderful opportunities to Edgecombe County. It is going to bring some wonderful opportunities to eastern North Carolina. And I think it is going to be a big asset to all of North Carolina. We are really proud that CSX chose this site in this place.”
Nathan Goldman, the executive vice president, chief legal officer and corporate secretary for CSX Corp., was also present to celebrate the opening of the CCX facility.
“CSX has a long history with Rocky Mount. Not only have we been on the map in this area for a long time, we are literally a part of the map. Our A line serves as the county line between Edgecombe and Nash counties. That is a big reason that the Carolina Connector is perfectly positioned to reach more than 5 million consumers within a 120-mile radius,” Goldman said.
Goldman said that the perseverance of state leaders including Cooper, the transportation secretary and the General Assembly is the reason that the project came to fruition after it was halted in 2017.
“It was truly your steadfast belief along with the Carolinas Gateway Partnership on the economic development side that made this possible through many twists and turns,” Goldman said.
In 2017, CSX had what Goldman said was a “rather significant change” in senior leadership when James Foote became president.
“That brought a different view of public-private partnerships,” Goldman said. “We worked hard together, and this is the result.”
David Farris, president and CEO of the Rocky Mount Area Chamber of Commerce, told the Telegram that he expects great results from the new facility. But he said it has been a challenging journey.
“It has been a long time since the initial announcement. A lot of hurdles had to be crossed,” he said. “There was that long pause when CSX was reassessing how they wanted to handle intermodals in the future. Thank goodness for the State of North Carolina and the Department of Transportation and the governor coming through and getting this put together for us. What a huge difference this is going to make for both Nash and Edgecombe counties and for Halifax and Wilson as well. This is racing fuel for our region. It is going to be the new engine that gets us going.”
Cooper also referenced these hurdles in his speech.
“I am really grateful to stand here and look at this progress,” Cooper said. “We were talking with CSX very early about this, and we had a certain plan we were going to execute. There were changes in the company and there was a different way to look at this. But we adapted to all of those changes.”
Cooper said he was grateful for the opportunity to work with CSX.
“Together we were able to make this work. This will have the capacity to handle 110,000 containers per year,” Cooper said. “This will help us address these supply chain issues. That, in turn, will address the inflation issue and make sure that we are emerging from this pandemic even stronger than before.”
Goldman also emphasized the impact of the facility on the supply chain and energy conservation issues. Train transport of shipping containers is the most fuel-efficient, environmentally friendly means of transportation to major consumption markets, he said.
“That means less trucks on the highway and less emissions in the air. One CSX train can ship a ton of freight 488 miles on a single gallon of fuel. One CSX train takes 280 trucks off the highway. At a time when supply chains are strained, facilities like this will play an important role in helping ease congestion,” he said.
Tolson summed up the importance of the grand opening of the facility as he spoke about the impact the facility will have on future generations.
“This grand opening helps us celebrate the vision, the hard work and the perseverance that went into this project. Future generations will applaud that effort, I predict,” Tolson said.