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Insider Only Kent County News Transportation

Harrington may land new freight train terminal

Katie Tabeling
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Very few businesses in Delaware have direct access to the railroad, like this Mountaire plant in Harrington. Harrington officials are working on a deal that would open a freight transfer station that would open opportunities to ship and receive goods. | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING

HARRINGTON — With a state grant in hand, Harrington city officials are now looking to partner with a regional freight transfer company to open more possibilities for Delaware businesses to ship and receive goods.

Harrington City Manager Norman Barlow confirmed that the city is drafting a memorandum of understanding with the Northeast Freight Transfer Family of Companies to build and operate a multimodal transfer station. Negotiations are still underway, but the project is underpinned by a $1 million Site Readiness Fund grant the city received from the state last month.

“Right now, it’s at a stage where we are working with our solicitors and they’re working with their team,” Norman told the Delaware Business Times. “Hopefully, we’ll have something we can work with relatively soon.”

The freight transfer station is proposed to be built at the southwestern end of a 131-acre site alongside Messicks Road, which is envisioned as the Harrington Industrial Park. The land is split into three parcels with three owners: the city, O.A. Newton Company President and CEO Rob Rider and businessman James Latham. O.A. Newton has a facility there and Latham has a lumber supply company, but much of the land is still vacant with limited infrastructure.

What the property does have is 3,800 feet of rail that ties into a railroad that runs through south Harrington. That railroad is one stretch of 188 miles of line that runs just south of Wilmington and as far as Accomack County, Va., and is key to the city’s future.

“That transfer station would not just serve the business park, but any local and regional business within a 20 or 30-mile radius,” Harrington Interim Planning Director Jeremy Rothwell told DBT. “For example, Schiff Farms may be interested in shipping bushels of corn and soybeans there, for a small fee, because they don’t have rail frontage.”

At one time, Harrington was known as “Delaware’s rail town,” and Kent County and city officials hope to revive that reputation once more. A study conducted last year makes a case that a terminal at the site would allow businesses in southern Kent County and Sussex County to ship and receive bulk commodities by rail, transferring goods from trucks to the train car for the final leg of the trip.

The study reports that demand is estimated between 1,500 and 2,000 rail carloads per year, translating to more than 200,000 tons of freight per year. Demand for freight shipping on the Eastern Seaboard is expected to be around 2 million tons by 2040.

The Kent Economic Partnership has been bullish on the logistics, warehousing and distribution sectors, due to the county’s central location and ease of access to major highways. But freight is a more cost-effective and fuel-efficient way to ship large quantities of goods long distances. Companies can save between 10% and 40% of costs via freight, according to a 2018 CSX Transportation report.

Very few parcels in Kent County have rail access, and no existing industrial park in Delaware has rail access. If Harrington succeeds in building the transfer station, it would be the second in the state, after the TransFlo Terminal in Wilmington.

Total infrastructure improvements are estimated at $20.3 million, with rail improvements and the terminal costing about $15 million. The city received $1 million from the Site Readiness Fund, and Rothwell told DBT that Northeast Freight Transfer was prepared to commit $1 million as a match.

In late 2021, Harrington officials, Rider and Latham signed a memorandum of understanding that granted the city authority to oversee and coordinate efforts to plan the industrial park and the terminal. Latham and Rider still retain power to review and weigh in on decisions, but the city officials have the last word.

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