To say the Heartland Intermodal Gateway was a failure is an understatement. The facility near the Wayne County community of Prichard was to tap into the growing intermodal traffic on Norfolk Southern’s Heartland Corridor carrying box containers traveling between Norfolk, Virginia, to Chicago, with a stop in Columbus, Ohio.
West Virginia invested in the truck-rail transfer facility, sinking $30 million into a venture that handled less than 4% of the business it needed to stay afloat before it shut down.
Now, as described by The Herald-Dispatch business reporter Fred Pace in an article on a previous page, efforts are underway to revive the potential of the Prichard facility, now renamed Central Appalachian Inland Port.
“The facility is being marketed to private intermodal terminal operators and to third party logistics providers,” David Lieving, president and CEO of the Huntington Area Development Council and executive director of the Wayne County Economic Development Authority, told Pace.
“The goal is to engage and contract with an operator that can help to grow the intermodal business of the facility.”
Bids are due March 24. That’s when we will know whether the original idea for Prichard was a pipe dream or if the facility really has promise.
Unlike Norfolk, Columbus and Chicago, the Tri-State economy is a relatively small one that does not have an existing strong base in warehousing the types of goods that move on intermodal trains. Previous plans for Prichard relied on wood products and motor vehicle parts, but there wasn’t enough business in those sectors to keep the facility open.
One thing that hurt the Prichard facility was lack of four-lane access t0 Interstate 64. Getting to Prichard from I-64 is a long haul on a two-lane road. U.S. 23 in Kentucky — right across the Big Sandy River from the Prichard facility — is four lanes. As more than one person has noted, a short bridge could connect Prichard to U.S. 23 and provide better access to potential customers in the Bluegrass State. West Virginia officials, though, might not want to help development in Kentucky. But a bridge would cost far less and cause fewer disruptions than widening U.S. 52.
So finding a new operator for the Prichard facility is only one step planners must take in their effort to fulfill Prichard’s potential. The state wrote off its investment in Prichard by deeding the property to the Wayne County Commission. The commission isn’t giving up on it just yet. If an intermodal facility isn’t feasible, then other plans must be considered for rail-related use.
As Bill Dingus, executive director of the Lawrence Economic Development Corp. in Ohio, noted, Prichard must be thought of as a regional facility serving three states. New and innovative management and marketing plans should be considered. The old way sure didn’t work.
It’s an effort worth trying despite the strong headwinds it faces.