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Trains still relevant in 21st century economy

Hank Hayes • Feb 1, 2014 at 6:45 PM

KINGSPORT — Rail service helped create Kingsport in the 20th century and now it sustains the Model City in the 21st century.

Indeed, rail service is ancient in today’s tech-driven world, but it’s still a powerful tool in economic development, said Clay Walker, the new chief executive officer at NETWORKS — Sullivan Partnership.

“For many industries, they find that rail is the most efficient way to move raw materials and/or finished product,” Walker said. “It’s really not up to us in the economic development world to determine what infrastructure is necessary. It’s up to us to respond to industry.”

Two major rail service companies operating in our region, CSX and Norfolk Southern, reported declines in coal shipments during 2013, but shipments in other major commodity groups like chemicals and automotive were up by double digits. Both CSX and Norfolk Southern recorded revenue gains in 2013, and both have a favorable economic outlook for 2014, according to their recently released earnings reports.

“Railroads are vital to the economic vitality of American industry, including the chemical industry,” Eastman Chemical Co. spokeswoman Tracy Kilgore said in an email.

Eastman’s Kingsport facilities, in particular, are a heavy user of rail service.

For an expanded version of this article, please see Sunday's print edition or our expanded electronic edition.

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