In the expanse of northwest Ohio farmland, Jim Wymer’s closest neighbor is a CSX intermodal container hub.
It’s the only one like it in the world, a pass-through for hundreds of thousands of freight containers each year and the model on which CSX will build a $272 million hub in Johnston County.
But despite the volume of trains and trucks, Wymer, an elected trustee for Henry Township, has no complaints, saying the multimillion hub across the road mostly keeps to itself.
“They’re good neighbors; you don’t hear them or anything,” Wymer said. “It doesn’t bother me at all.”
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Wymer thinks most people in Henry Township would agree with him. “The only negative thing people in the town talk about is how there are so many trains, they’re often sitting for 10 or 15 minutes waiting for them to pass.”
Last week, CSX announced Johnston County as the home of its second regional container hub. Positioned between Selma and Micro, just west of Interstate 95, the 450-acre intermodal terminal will use large electric cranes to move freight containers on and off of trains and trucks, consolidating cargo traveling similar routes.
The Ohio hub opened in 2011 with five cranes but has since grown to seven. Together, they’re capable of handling 900,000 containers a year. Located west of North Baltimore, Ohio, the container hub is an area even more rural than Johnston County. To the north, Detroit is 100 miles away.
In announcing the Johnston County terminal, company officials and local leaders touted the broad economic impact they see for the hub, such as filling the Wilmington port and attracting manufacturers and distribution centers to the region.
Wood County Administrator Andrew Kalmar said that has been somewhat true for the Ohio hub, pointing to a Home Depot distribution center and a Calphalon cookware plant, both of which have opened since 2011.
“There hasn’t been development right around the facility, but there’s a considerable number of distribution centers in the north end of the county, about 15 miles from the intermodal hub,” Kalmar said.
Louis Renjel is vice president for strategic infrastructure for CSX. He said it was to be expected for companies to position themselves beyond the immediate vicinity of the Ohio terminal. He said the Johnston County hub, with its proximity to I-95, offers companies a number of options for moving products.
“The competitive advantage this offers is the biggest attraction for North Carolina,” he said. “We’re going to be able to provide greater market access in a cheaper manner.”
North Carolina’s long-elusive automaker might now be closer to coming, but Johnston County economic-development director Chris Johnson said such a manufacturer would likely locate outside of Johnston.
“I got a call from a peer in Edgecombe, and she was just elated with the news,” Johnson said, referring to the CSX announcement. “Up there is a 1,000-acre mega-site, which is something typically set aside to recruit automotive companies. There’s no mega-site in Johnston County. This is going to improve her site and create the opportunity to recruit supply-chain industries. At the BMW plant in Greenville (S.C.), there’s a 50-mile stretch of just supply-chain companies that feed into that one plant.”
CSX says its Ohio hub has taken 220,000 trucks off the roads annually. But Johnston County will likely have to take solace in the relief of its regional neighbors, because local traffic is likely to increase. Railway lines leading to the Johnston hub will mostly reduce the number of long-haul trucks, ones traveling a thousand or more miles with a single container of cargo. Johnston roads, though, will see more traffic, as trucks pick up or drop off from the container hub.
In Ohio, Kalmar said, the increase in local truck traffic contributed to the current widening of Interstate 75 in this rural part of the state.
“As we speak, they’re widening the interstate, partially to accommodate the additional truck traffic,” Kalmar said. “We sit in a good intersection of highways and have seen more trucks. But overall, the experience has been positive.”
Drew Jackson: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdrewjackson