The Washington Grain Trainby Ray Allred
WA State DOT Brochure, October 2003
Why did WSDOT start the Washington Grain Train?
In the early 1990s, a national shortage of rail hopper cars made it difficult and expensive for Washington State farmers to get grain to market. The transcontinental railroads were earning more money hauling grain from the Midwest to ports in the Pacific Northwest than they could through shorter distance trips within Washington, which reduced the supply of empty grain cars for eastern Washington grain shippers. To help alleviate this shortage of grain cars, the Washington State Energy Office and WSDOT used federal funds from a successful lawsuit against oil companies -- who wer found to have over-charged the nation's farmers for fuel during the 1970s -- to purchase 29 used grain cars for dedicated service within Washington. These rail cars, built between 1966 and 1981, were then repaired and repainted. The total cost for the orginal 29-car fleet was $763,000.
Public benefits of the Washington Grain Train
The Washington Grain Train produces a number of important public benefits:
How well is the Grain Train program performing today?
The Washington Grain Train carried 259 cars of grain to deepwater ports in the third quarter of 2003. This is a 92 percent increase in carloads over the same period in 2002. The addition of a third grain train in April 2003, and a high level of use by cooperative members/farmers between Marshall and Pullman, drove this near doubling of quarterly total.
Through September of this year, the Washington Grain Train has carried a total of 758 carloads. This equates to 2,166 truckloads of grain. The total number of grain train carloads for 2002 was 874. With the addition of the third grain train, WSDOT anticipates that the total Washington Grain Train car loadings for 2003 will approach 1,000.
How does the Washington Grain Train Revolving Fund work?
The grain train's day-to-day business operations support a unique revolving fund that pays for fleet expansion. Here's how the system works:
As shown in the chart below (not shown), the revolving fund account is drawn upon roughly every four years for a new Washington Grain Train. The second Washington Grain Train was purchased in 1999 and went into operation in April 2000. The third grain train was purchased in January 2003 and went into operation in April.
From the Washington Department of Transportation website (July 2006)
What is the grain train program?
The Washington Grain Train is a transportation program that serves over 2,500 cooperative members and farmers in one of the most productive grain-growing regions in the world. The Grain Train program is financially self-sustaining and produces a number of public benefits.
Why did WSDOT start the Grain Train program?
WSDOT started the Washington Grain Train program to help alleviate a shortage of grain cars. In the 1990s, a national shortage of grain cars made it difficult and expensive for Washington State farmers to get grain to market. The transcontinental railroads were earning more money hauling grain from the Midwest to ports in the Pacific Northwest than they could through shorter distance trips within Washington. This reduced the supply of empty grain cars for eastern Washington grain shippers.
Where do the cars collect grain?
The Washington Grain Trains collect wheat and barley from grain elevators in Prescott, Waitsburg, McCoy, Rosalia, Spangle, Endicott, Thornton, St. John, Willada, Schrag, Plaza, Oakesdale, and Fallon, in eastern Washington.
How many cars are in the fleet?
Eighty-nine. Seventy-one are owned by Washington State. The Port of Walla Walla owns 18.
How much did the original Washington Grain Trains cost?
The total cost for the original 29-rail car fleet was $763,000. All three Washington Grain Trains' day-to-day business operations help fund fleet expansion. A portion of these funds are set aside for grain car maintenance and car replacement and the rest is put into a fund that can be tapped to purchase new rail cars.
Where did the money come from?
In 1994 WSDOT and the Washington State Energy Office used federal funds to purchase 29 used grain cars for service within Washington State. These energy rebate funds came from successful litigation against oil companies who had overcharged customers. The money was used to purchase, repair, and repaint the previously used grain cars. The financial success of this first Grain Train provided money to eventually acquire an additional 65 rail cars and to expand the service into Walla Walla and Whitman Counties.
What benefits do the Washington Grain Trains deliver?
Washington Grain Trains provide several important benefits, such as:
Is the Washington Grain Train successful?
Yes, the program continues to grow since it began in 1994. The entire program has been financially self-sustaining since the initial equipment purchase. Initially, the Grain Train program offered service only in the Walla Walla area. In 1999 and 2003, profits from the operations of the Grain Train financed the purchase of a second and third Grain Train to serve farmers in the Moses Lake and Walla Walla areas.
In 2004 the Washington Grain Train carried 1,168 cars of grain to deepwater ports. The 2004 total is the equivalent to 2,794 truckloads of grain. This was a 12 percent increase over 2003. Growing demand for Washington grain in Pacific Rim markets drove the 2004 increase in car loadings. Soon the Washington Grain Train cars will be able to carry even more grain. By the end of 2005, each of the 89 cars will be upgraded to carry an additional 2.5 tons of grain.
For More Information Contact:
WSDOT Rail Office, PO Box 47387, Olympia, WA 98504-7387
Phone: 360.705.7901, or toll-free 1.800.822.2015 (in Washington State)
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