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Twenty-five years from now, you will all look back and take pride in what is happening today.

CHATSWORTH, Ga. — Chattanooga's Volkswagen assembly plant and Atlanta-area drivers should both benefit from a new "inland port" to open by 2018 in landlocked Murray County.

That's according to Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal and other officials who on Tuesday morning gathered on the broiling, sun-baked lawn of the historic county courthouse to announce the Appalachian Regional Port. The $24 million development on U.S. 411 will allow shipping containers hauled by semi-trailer trucks to be loaded on to freight trains for the 388-mile trip by rail to the Georgia Port Authority's Garden City Terminal, just northwest of Savannah.

CSX Transportation, the largest railroad east of the Mississippi and the third largest nationwide, will operate an intermodal facility under a memorandum of understanding signed by CSX, the state, Murray County and the Georgia Ports Authority.

"Twenty-five years from now, you will all look back and take pride in what is happening today," Deal told the crowd.

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An artist's rendering of the Appalachian Regional Port on display outside the Murray County Courthouse at Tuesday's ceremony.
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Officials sign a memorandum of understanding.

The Appalachian Regional Port will have the capacity to take 50,000 containers off the highway by 2018, state officials said, which should double in a decade as the facility expands. State officials said the new inland port will offer a "competitive option" for the truck-only route between the Port of Savannah and businesses in Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky.

Existing carpet, flooring, auto and tire industries will be more competitive on the global market with the option of rail transport, state officials said, since 45 percent of the inland port's traffic should be international import and export.

"You can take 50,000 trucks off the road," Deal said. "That is truly an amazing accomplishment. An intermodal facility is a significant step forward."

This will be Georgia's second inland port. In July of last year, the state and Georgia Port Authority signed a memorandum of understanding with Cordele Intermodal Services, Inc., for an inland port to ship mainly agricultural products from Cordele, Ga., south of Macon to the Port of Savannah.

Deal expects more inland ports will be built around Georgia to connect with the Port of Savannah.

"I think the demand is going to be huge," he said.

Representatives from Chattanooga's Volkswagen assembly plant were at Tuesday's ceremony and are interested in shipping parts via rail, instead of by truck.

The new facility will sit on 42 acres of former cattle pasture on the eastern side of U.S. 411 just north of the unincorporated community of Crandall. Officials couldn't say Tuesday how many jobs the facility would create.

The $24 million inland port will cost the state $10 million, the Georgia Port Authority $7.5 million, CSX $5.5 million and Murray County $1 million, state officials said.

"It's a great day for Murray County," said Sole Commissioner Brittany Pittman.

Asked about increased truck traffic that the inland port will bring to Murray County, Pittman said, "All the due diligence has been done."

CSX Senior Vice President Clarence Gooden said that Volkswagen already gets parts from the Port of Savannah for its Chattanooga assembly plant and that VW officials "can't wait for it to get up and running."

Gooden said CSX has about 40 intermodal yards in the eastern United States. Recent intermodal yards opened by CSX, he said, include one about six months ago near Montreal, Quebec and one about a year ago in Winter Haven, Fla.

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com or www.facebook.com/tim.omarzu or twitter.com/TimOmarzu or 423-757-6651.

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