New England Automotive Gateway Ramps Up

A major rebalancing of automotive terminal capacity in the eastern U.S. is underway in one of CSX Transportation’s key markets. Auto distribution operations are being shifted from two aging terminals in congested urban areas close to Boston to a modern and efficient facility outside of East Brookfield and Spencer, Mass. The new terminal has allowed the leading East Coast automotive railroad to cut its costs and bring vehicles closer to dealers in all of New England’s largest cities.

As the development manager for the new, state-of-the-art New England Automotive Gateway, TransDevelopment played a key role taking the $12-million greenfield project from the early planning stages right on through construction and commissioning.

“This facility couldn’t have been developed without TransDevelopment’s up-front planning and attention to detail,” says Joe Hill, CSXT’s director of capital projects and facilities. “This distribution hub allows our customers to deliver high levels of service to General Motors and other leading car manufacturers. The new facility allows us to be more efficient and get vehicles to market more quickly. We’ve cut out two days of transit time for each railcar. That’s a significant amount of time and money saved, and it releases railcars sooner to be loaded again with our customer’s products.”

The planning and business development efforts to build the New England Automotive Gateway from the ground up were challenging and time-consuming. The 90-acre development, which lies within a master-planned 232-acre site, has been in the works for more than a decade.

TransDevelopment teamed with the property owner, Seven Mile River Associates, in 1994 to master-plan the site for automotive distribution. The owner is affiliated with Foreign Auto Servicing (FAS), which has processed more than 1-million import vehicles for a variety of customers at Massport in Boston, including Toyota and Volkswagen.

“FAS principals George Bell and Steve Pugiliese had the original vision that a new inland vehicle distribution facility would provide greater shipping efficiencies and increased capacity,” according to John MacGregor,TransDevelopment’s president. “As experienced and established operators, they saw an opportunity to create value and they invested their own money in the early stages of the development. We don’t see a lot of this kind of initiative in our industry. In the early days, we helped them talk with Conrail, CSXT’s predecessor in the market, about the potential for the project.”

Groundbreaking got underway in late 2002, traffic started in October 2004, and the facility was completed by mid-December. The official dedication of the auto gateway is scheduled during the first quarter of 2005.

“The New England Automotive Gateway is a project that has long legs and challenged everyone involved,” says MacGregor. “Massachusetts and the local communities have exacting standards for new development. The site’s environmental resources have been carefully identified in the planning process, with extensive public review. The permitting and regulatory process became longer, in part because the development site straddles two townships.”

TransDevelopment professionals rose to the occasion to make the project a success, using a team approach with several local consultants and contractors.

TransDevelopment provided the project’s planning entitlements, along with comprehensive design, turnkey construction management and facility commissioning services. The initial phase included 40 acres of paving for vehicle storage and handling operations and more than three miles of new rail track work to support the transfer of more than 200,000 vehicles annually. Three permanent site buildings were constructed and the distribution facility was equipped with state-of-the-art inventory management and security systems.

TransDevelopment also managed the reconstruction of a portion of State Highway 49 alongside of the automotive gateway. The upgrade accommodates the outbound haul-away truck traffic and provides the community with an improved major roadway.

In keeping with the environmentally sensitive nature of the development, a state-of-the-art waste water system was installed and a high-tech lighting system – called “dark sky” technology – was incorporated in the plans.

To help make the New England Gateway blend in with its natural surroundings, TransDevelopment planned extensive wetlands protection and natural landscape buffer areas.

“Everyone involved with this project, especially TransDevelopment, went above and beyond what was necessary to make the facility a success,” says Seven Mile River Associates’ George Bell. “The auto manufacturers just love the facility.”

Vehicle volumes handled by the New England Automotive Gateway have increased beyond expectations because customers have rebalanced shipping territories to take advantage of the central location of the new facility. The auto terminal lies at the geographical center of major markets, including Hartford, New Haven, Springfield, Providence and, of course, Boston.

An innovative facility operations plan also makes the Gateway project special. FAS principals continue to be involved in daily operations, management and ownership of the new facility, and they also operate a new short line switching railroad to provide service between the CSXT mainline and the on-site rail ramp.

Adds MacGregor: “I think this is a prime example of how to foster good development. Working together, we were able to blend the business needs of the end users with technical challenges and tough regulatory requirements. This was not what you would call a run-of-the-mill project—but we learned a lot in the process and it turned out to be a win for all concerned.”

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