With fuel costs at an all-time high, new proposals by rail giants CSX Corporation and Norfolk Southern are seeking to alleviate the costs of transporting goods by truck via the rail system, promising to carry the equivalent of hundreds of trucks on a single train.

CSX last month launched the National Gateway, a $700 million public-private infrastructure plan to haul goods in and out of the Midwest, enhancing three existing rail corridors that run through Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, the company said.

Norfolk Southern has announced the Heartland Corridor, a double-stack clearance project that would connect the Hampton Roads region of Virginia with locations in the Midwest, and the Patriot Corridor, which would connect Albany, NY and Boston.

"More and more, the nation is becoming aware of the tremendous safety, economic and environmental benefits that railroads create,” said Michael J. Ward, chairman, president & CEO of CSX. “Our trains can move a ton of freight 423 miles on a single gallon of fuel, and one train can carry the load of more than 280 trucks. The National Gateway leverages those benefits to the fullest by combining the resources and expertise of the public and private sectors."

Whether or not this will have a large impact on truck freight is unclear. While capacity may be increased, rails simply do not have the geographical reach of trucks. “Fully 75% of communities in the United States are commercially reachable by truck only,” Gary Petty, president & CEO of the National Private Truck Council, told FleetOwner. “I don’t think it will eat into the truck market.”

Petty added that instead of looking towards railways, shippers need to continue to look at maximizing efficiency. More cargo would be better transported by allowing larger trucks on the road, he said, and streamlining routes and getting the most of out fuel is a necessary step as well as the political willpower to push for a solution to congestion.

As part of its plan, CSX would build or expand high-capacity terminals where product shipments are exchanged between trucks and trains, in addition to working with the government to create double-stack clearances beneath public overpasses along the railroad, that would let rail carriers to stack intermodal containers atop each other, the company said.

According to CSX, it has committed $300 million to the National Gateway, and plans on working with state and federal governments for additional funding.

The Heartland Corridor was made official after Norfolk Southern entered into a Memoranda of Agreement with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) for the release of $95 million in federal funding for the project, the company said.

According to Norfolk Southern, the parties involved will now work to complete needed engineering and environmental studies, expecting the clearance construction to be completed by the end of 2009.

“This is an important public-private partnership that will result in significant public benefits, including increased access for the Port of Virginia and increased movement of freight by rail as opposed to on the highways,” said Governor Tim Kaine (D-VA). “I’m pleased with the multistate and federal partnership that has enabled this project to advance.”

For the Patriot Corridor, Norfolk Southern formed a 50/50 partnership with Pan Am Railways, a $140 million joint venture of which $87.5 million will be spent within the next three years in capital improvements on the corridor such as terminal expansions and track and signal upgrades, the companies said. The two companies hope the partnership will increase capacity on the route while increasing speed and reliability.

View more Fleet Owner news relating to alternative fuels, fuel conservation, fuel economy and diesel fuel prices.