Published: Friday, February 14, 2014 at 12:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, February 15, 2014 at 12:47 a.m.
WINTER HAVEN | The trains are coming. And Winter Haven hasn’t seen anything like it.
After years of controversy and patience, Winter Haven’s CSX rail terminal, the Central Florida Intermodal Logistics Center, opens in early April.
Construction is complete at the site off State Road 60 in Winter Haven, near Lake Wales. Workers there are going through the final phases of training on three massive cranes before the facility starts using them to move containers from the additional trains traveling through Polk County – and the commerce that comes with it.
Soon, the most technologically advanced intermodal terminal in the country will unload trains directly onto trucks — and trucks on to trains — in the most environmentally friendly, most efficient way possible with today’s technology, CSX officials say.
This terminal and others like it — that make shipping easier by being able to use multiple means of transport for one container — are becoming an important part of the rail business.
“Intermodal is the future here and now,” CSX spokesman Gary Sease said, “and Winter Haven is certainly on the vanguard of that.”
It’s also on the precipice of an economic development revolution, local business leaders say.
When the terminal starts operating in April — tentatively planned for April 2 — the terminal will add two inbound and two outbound train trips on the line of rail that runs through the center of the state and dissects downtown Lakeland per day.
That train traffic was the subject of controversy and contention between Lakeland and Winter Haven officials.
It takes over the traffic that has been going through Orlando, moving the trains to Winter Haven to make way for the commuter rail project, SunRail, approved by Gov. Rick Scott in 2012.
Scott was in Winter Haven in November 2012 when CSX officially broke ground on the terminal after years of waiting. CSX officials said there was no doubt the terminal would eventually open, but without the commuter rail taking over CSX’s Orlando line, it could have taken many years for market conditions to warrant it.
The terminal uses three 3,100-foot rail lines under three $6 million Kuhn cranes to move intermodal containers from trains directly onto semi trucks. It’s capable of processing 300,000 containers in a year. Automated computer systems optimize the flow of trucks through the terminal and minimize time the cranes have between two points to achieve those numbers.
“Literally, the technology is going to pick the best, most optimal move,” said the terminal manager, Jamie Watkins, who has opened two other CSX intermodal facilities in Kentucky and Ohio.
“We’re actually just enhancing the technology that has been in the other two terminals and just making it that much better.”
The cranes run on electricity, not diesel fuel like their earlier counterparts. The buildings are Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified. And the efficiency systems mean trucks will idle less.
“It’s really cutting-edge technology,” said Carl Warren, director of business development for CSX.
“The entire package is considerably more efficient and environmentally friendly than what was being built 20 years ago.”
There is no facility quite like the Central Florida Intermodal Rail Terminal in Florida.
It is expected to employ about 55 employees between CSX, its subsidiary that owns the terminal, and vendors that will work on site. CSX handles the container movements. Its subsidiary, Evansville Western Railway owns the property.
The CSX crew is mostly younger and excited, Watkins said. One manager was “totally geeking out” when they successfully moved their first container. Now they move dozens as the crane operators practice their skills.
“The type of people I have seen operating cranes is extremely competitive,” said one of the four operations manager, Scott Duncan, 30.
,”They want to be the best … (The job) requires a competitive drive to be good.”
When the terminal officially starts unloading trains in April, Winter Haven will be directly connected to other intermodal terminals across the United States.
And Winter Haven is now the connection to freight rail for much of Central and South Florida, along with Tampa.
“Us picking Winter Haven as the site for this intermodal terminal was with future strategy in mind,” said Rick Hood, assistant vice president for CSX Real Property Inc.
Winter Haven’s connection is likely to lead to a manufacturing revolution, drastically changing the city’s economy and creating thousands of jobs, Greater Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Bob Gernert said.
Gernert was lauded for his role in bringing the terminal to Winter Haven at his retirement party in January. He retires at the end of this month.
“I think it’s going to be a total game changer for the city in terms of its economic base,” Gernert said.
“I don’t think any of us really understand just how completely this is going to alter the economic outlook for this community in a positive way.”
The rail terminal and planned business park on 932 acres next to it will bring an estimated 8,500 jobs to the area.
CSX is under contract with the city of Winter Haven to buy the 932 acres for $14.9 million by June 1.
Hood wouldn’t say whether CSX will buy the property this year — the sale has been planned and put off multiple times since 2005.
The annual payroll for those jobs is expected to be $282.2 million, according to an economic impact study conducted by HDR Engineering.
Winter Haven Economic Development Council Executive Director Bruce Lyon said it is hard to really estimate the number of jobs, but he expects 8 million square feet of warehouse space to be built there.
“The variety of jobs that are going to be created and enabled by this terminal and (the surrounding land), make the economic impact difficult to predict,” Lyon said.
“I do believe that Winter Haven will have the highest percentage of economic growth in Polk County because of CSX, Legoland (Florida), downtown investments and the integrated logistic center.”
The terminal is also prompting other nearby property owners to consider the future. Property on State Road 60 has been rezoned for a second business park. Many expect the area around the terminal, which includes many homes and farms, to be drastically changed by the terminal.
Polk County as a whole is going to change, too, Hood said.
“It really adds that economic development component to Polk County,” Hood said.
“Now there is that third leg of the stool with economic development activity really anchored by this new intermodal activity.”
[ Ryan Little can be reached at [email protected] or 863-401-6962. Follow him on Twitter @LedgerRyan ]
Link to the story: http://www.theledger.com/article/20140214/newschief/140219452?p=1&tc=pg